The City of Los Angeles, which innovated municipal recreation in the U.S. in 1904 with creation of the nation's first Playground Department, opened its first municipal pool in 1914. Over the last 90 years, Los Angeles Recreation and Parks has built a nationally known Aquatics Division that provides recreational swimming, lap swim, team sports, lifeguard training, junior lifeguarding, adaptive swimming for the disabled, and swimming lessons, to 1.3 million Angelenos each year. In 2003, 572,000 of those swimmers were youth enjoying the Free Swim program, and another 27,000 were seniors attending under the Free Swim program.
City pools serve a greater purpose than instilling positive social and health values. In 2002, there were 71 drowning fatalities within the County of Los Angeles, of which more than one-quarter were children under five years of age, and in fact, drowning is the leading cause of death for children between one and five years of age. For every one drowning fatality, there are five near-drowning accidents. The supervised swimming activities provided at Recreation and Park pools can make a life-saving difference to the people of Los Angeles.
But the infrastructure of the City of Los Angeles swimming pools is failing. Over 63% of the pools are over 40 years old, and in many cases the only option is replacement. At many of these pools, maintenance or refurbishment efforts might only hold off deterioration for a few years, before the need to replace them is inevitable.
Today, the Department of Recreation and Parks has altogether 59 swimming pools: 54 throughout the City, 15 of which operate year round, and 5 more at camp locations. Six of the City pools are closed due to failure, and two camp pools are closed.
Given the failing infrastructure and the frail condition of some of the City's pools, it is likely that more pools will be closed at varying times and for varying reasons during the summer. There are areas of the City where private residential pools are rare, yet City pools are equally scarce. The children and families of Los Angeles desire more pools, they are interested in diversifying the aquatic play features available at their local pools, and they are looking to the City for leadership in meeting this need.