Kevin de León approves $1 million for ‘long overdue’ Highland Park pool renovation

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Highland Park Swimming Pool in Los Angeles, CA. March 9, 2023. Ethan Dulaney/The Occidental

Highland Park has changed a lot over the years, but its community pool and bathhouse center on Piedmont Avenue, constructed in 1948, has not kept up — graffiti tags are a common sight, and the center lacks air conditioning and heating. Nineteen years after the city’s recreation department first recommended an overhaul of the pool, Los Angeles City Councilmember Kevin de León approved the allocation of $1 million toward the revitalization of the center.

March 3, the Highland Park Neighborhood Council (HPNC) sent a letter to the LA City Council describing the pool’s neglected state. John Collinson, a 36-year Northeast LA resident and the chair of the HPNC land use committee, wrote the letter. He said its locker rooms are dirty and the facility lacks shade, and a 2017 Yelp review described a child’s foot being cut on the bottom of the pool.

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Highland Park Swimming Pool in Los Angeles, CA. March 9, 2023. Ethan Dulaney/The Occidental

“Our community deserves better,” Collinson said. “[Especially] for low-income families who can’t afford air conditioning or don’t have air conditioning, they need a place to cool off this summer.”

Highland Park, like much of LA, has had a long history of gang violence and civic neglect, according to Collinson. He said that even 20 years ago one would not consider walking alone down parts of Figueroa Boulevard and that gang violence was ubiquitous. But the neighborhood’s gentrification in the last 15 or so years also brought about an improvement in safety and a revitalization that the pool does not reflect, Collinson said.

Pete Brown, the communications director for de León’s district, Council District (CD) 14, which includes parts of East and Northeast LA, said the state of the recreation center is an equity issue, as other neighborhoods in LA have much more modern facilities.

“[De León’s] focus has always been on an issue of equity, and making sure that his constituents get the same access to resources that other parts of the city have traditionally gotten and many take for granted,” Brown said.

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Highland Park Swimming Pool in Los Angeles, CA. March 9, 2023. Ethan Dulaney/The Occidental

Brown said this funding is not for the construction itself, but for preliminary steps in renovating the pool, like assessing the space and creating a design — de León drew the $1 million from discretionary funds, so no further approval is needed. The city has begun the process of searching for a consultant to take the lead on these preliminary measures and seek community input along the way, Brown said, and the search should be complete by this summer.

After that, according to Brown, contractors will begin putting in bids to take on the project, a process that Brown estimated would start in a year and could take about four to six months. He said the city is required to select the lowest-cost bid that meets all quality requirements, and construction will begin after that.

And although the preliminary funds have been approved, money for the actual construction of the pool will be allocated in the coming months, based on which contract the city ends up approving, Brown said. CD 14 officials will apply for funds from federal, state and local levels, he said, and it can require creativity and persistence to draw from the varied funding streams.

“It’s a bureaucratic process, but a transparent one,” Brown said.

Collinson said politics have sometimes gotten in the way of progress with community issues. He said CD 14 has had a checkered history with its elected officials, and several district officials in past decades have ignored calls for the center’s renovation.

“In Highland Park, there is currently a public crisis of confidence in our elected officials and city government,” Collinson said via text.

Brown said he believes de León’s office is committed to seeing this renovation through.

“It will take a quarterback to put that game plan together,” Brown said. “And I think the Councilman has indicated that he’s going to be that person to put a package together and pursue those funding opportunities and work with his state and federal officials to secure the money needed, which is long overdue.”

Harry Blumsack, president of the HPNC, said it’s important that the renovations and designs are carried out with residents’ input and reflect the community’s character. He pointed to a renovation in Garvanza Park where the department installed a play structure of a European-style castle rather than a structure that reflected the community’s predominantly Hispanic heritage. Brown said community input will be crucial, and will be incorporated throughout the process rather than just at the end.

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Highland Park Recreation Center in Los Angeles, CA. March 9, 2023. Ethan Dulaney/The Occidental

Collinson said he would love to see a mural on the new Highland Park center, and for it to be named in honor of Sammy Lee ’43 of Highland Park, the first Asian American man to win an Olympic gold medal, overcoming racial barriers. He said the council is thrilled about the renovation, and that well-maintained recreation centers are the heart of community life.

“These places, these resources need to be celebrated and need to be treated as a magnet that bring people together so we can celebrate our diversity,” Collinson said.

Contact Divya Prakash at dprakash@oxy.edu

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