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Pool Safety Means Common Sense -
Not Nonsense

Los Angeles Sentinel

February 12, 2009

By: Linda Love

Critics have warned improper enforcement of a new pool safety law could result in widespread pool closures here in Los Angeles County. That is something everyone wants to avoid. But the importance of swimming pools being open for business in our communities has been largely absent from the conversation. 

In short, there is a huge need to teach our children how to swim. A USA Swimming study released last year found black children are three times as likely to drown as white children the same age, due in large part to the fact that almost 60 percent of black children do not know how to swim.

The only way to combat this statistic is to get more children into swimming programs, and that is what makes the County’s enforcement of the Virginia Graeme Baker Act so vexing. The more pool closures there are, the less space there is for children to swim.

The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act should have been greeted with nothing but cheers when it became federal law last December. Named after the granddaughter of former Secretary of State Jim Baker, who died in a drain accident, the law requires dome-shaped drain covers and either an anti-entrapment device or split drain systems be installed in all public pools. An anti-entrapment device is a far more cost-effective solution for pools that dual drains. But Bernard Franklin, Los Angeles County’s pool program director, is forcing all public pools adopt the latter, far more costly option. Worse, he is requiring all public pools be drained when they install the new drain covers, potentially leaving pools closed for long periods of time or damaged by the elements. In communities where funding is already stretched, pools in traditionally African American neighborhoods will be hit hard by one man’s irrational interpretation of the law.

The new safety requirements of the Pool and Spa Safety Act go a long way to ensuring our loved ones are safer every time they set foot in the pool. But critics like me are rightly outraged that local officials have superseded the provisions of the federal law in favor of far more costly local policies.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The law was explicitly written in such a way that public pools could come into compliance without breaking the bank. Now is the time for Mr. Franklin and County officials to simply interpret the law as it was written.

Linda Love is the Board President of California Consumers United—a California based consumer protection coalition established to protect consumers from predatory and unfair business practices and to advocate for regulations and laws that protect and advance the rights of consumers in California.

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