With record-breaking temperatures pounding Long Beach and the rest of Southern California, local residents have been searching for ways to beat the heat. Under normal circumstances, those with access to a swimming pool in their condominium or apartment complex would be well-equipped to find refuge from the triple-digit temperatures. But in 2020, the concept of “normal” seems to have disappeared entirely.
Due to state, county, and city stay-at-home orders in response to the coronavirus pandemic, all residential swimming pools (outside of single-family residences) were closed back in March, and the process to reopen them has proven challenging for some of Long Beach’s residents. According to Speedy Watson, the HOA President at Stoneybrook Villas, a 471-unit condominium complex in East Long Beach, there has been a lot of confusion in getting clearance to reopen the pool at that facility.
“In a word, it’s been a nightmare,” Watson said. “You’ve got the feds telling the state, telling the country, telling the city, telling the Health Department, then telling us what to do, and none of them are on the same page. The county could open before the city, and now it’s basically down to the Long Beach Health Department, and that’s who we’ve been dealing with for the last 7-10 days trying to get our pool reopened.”
According to Watson, he’s been working on getting the main pool at Stoneybrook open for more than six weeks, but hasn’t been able to get consistent information from city officials. The HOA has already made adjustments to the facility, including the addition of signage to pool entrances to provide safety protocols, removal of some pool furniture to promote social distancing, and the installation of hand sanitizer stations all around the complex.
On July 2, Long Beach’s Department of Health and Human Services released Appendix K, which provided protocols for public swimming pools. The protocols allow for the reopening of residential pools so long as buildings abide by a lengthy list of safety measures like limiting pool usage to fewer than 10 people at a time, moving pool furniture to be at least six feet apart, and increasing sanitization practices for commonly touched surfaces.
Craig Wong, an Environmental Health Specialist in the Health and Human Services Department, oversees the city’s water and pool programs, and he said there are no barriers for buildings to re-open their pools.
“They don’t need approval, they can open,” Wong stated. “It’s basically a civil matter between building management and the residents. I know some of (the buildings) don’t want to, but they can if they want to. They’re authorized to do so. Appendix K needs to be posted at the pool, but for residential buildings and hotels, their swimming pools can be open throughout the city.”
Despite that assertion, Watson claims his HOA received conflicting information from the city during the course of their efforts to reopen the pool.
“We thought we were good to open last weekend, but we had three different people call and the city said we can’t open yet,” Watson stated. “We are preparing to open probably this week, based on what the Long Beach City Health Department tells us and is allowing us to do.”
For residents who are detached from the process, the inaction has led to frustration, especially during a summer heat wave. According to Stoneybrook resident Nima Novin, some of the residents are beginning to grow restless.
“People are starting to see that other things are open, so they’re frustrated,” Novin said. “When you look at what we’re able to do, this is one of the easier things to do. The (HOA) can shut down the grills, space out the furniture, and do the reservations. So I think the most frustrating thing is not knowing whether it’s the HOA or the city or both.”
Stoneybrook has already established an app for residents which will allow them to sign a digital liability waiver for pool use, and reserve a 90-minute time slot to prevent overcrowding the area. With those measures already in place, and about 80 percent of the residents already completing the waiver, Watson is hopeful that the situation will be resolved in the coming days.
“We’re trying to do the right thing and protect everybody,” Watson explained. “We’ve been overly conservative in this because we have nearly 1,000 people living in Stoneybrook. Fortunately, to date, not a single person has reported a positive test, so we’re very happy about that. But there’s that certain group of folks that are asking why we aren’t open because they called the city and were told we could open, but then we’ve called the city and were told no. So it’s just very, very difficult because of the lack of continuity.”
Wong said that city residents should email Craig.Wong@longbeach.gov with any questions related to pool re-openings or the suggested safety protocols.
Photos courtesy Nima Novin.