If you were to ask swimmers whether we prefer swimming in an enclosed indoor pool or in the open air, I think the overwhelming majority of us would say, “Outside!”
Few outside pools can boast a setting as magnificent the Palm Springs Swim Center, with the magnificent San Jacinto Mountains towering over its sun-dappled waters. I’ve spent five winters in Palm Springs, and the novelty of being able to swim laps outside, in January, while surrounded by both palm trees and snow-covered peaks, has never worn off. The availability of this generous outdoor swimming pool was, for me—as it has been for others—one of the chief reasons I elected to buy a home here, convinced as I was that I’d be able to swim outside all winter long.
Unfortunately, that has not been the case this winter. The Swim Center pool has been subject to unpredictable and sudden closings, leaving the many diverse swimmers who depend on it—not just for physical exercise, but for their larger well-being—high and dry. And increasingly frustrated.
The immediate issue appears to be a staffing shortage, leaving the pool inadequately supplied with the required number of lifeguards, and necessitating closures, often with little or no advance warning. For five months, there has been no aquatic supervisor onsite, which has only exacerbated the staffing challenges. My interactions with the check-in and poolside staff have always been pleasant, but these too-few employees are being asked to do the impossible.
This absence of engaged management is also apparent in the maintenance of the Swim Center, a facility that is now nearly 50 years old. However pleasant the open-air, sun-warmed locker room may be, its lockers are barely functional, and the sanitary facilities are outdated. More distressing is the obvious absence of sufficiently frequent pool cleaning: The pool bottom is frequently littered with palm debris and ficus leaves. I understand the challenge of wind-carried leaf litter, but weeks go by with no attempt to remove the blackened leaves from the Swim Center’s deep end.
These human resource and facility challenges lead to a larger question about the seeming absence of engaged oversight by the Parks and Recreation Department. Why has this city department allowed one of its chief public assets to decline to this degree? Why has it taken the outcry of disappointed, frustrated swimmers to direct the department’s attention to these staffing and maintenance issues?
The last Parks and Recreation plan was completed in 2014 and is functionally outdated. There is no overall capital plan to identify facility assets, their useful lifespan and anticipated time frames for replacing them. What’s more, there is no operational plan to govern day-to-day operations and give both employees and the public a sense of what our expectations should be.
Where is the City Council in this sad situation? The elected council members need to be aware of the budgetary and staffing challenges of running a facility of this size and complexity. They must be strong advocates for the Swim Center and demand accountability from the Parks and Recreation Department regarding its proper operation—and figure out why appropriated funds are routinely not fully spent on this facility.
The Palm Springs Swim Center is used year round by people from 8 to 80 and beyond. School-age children learn to swim here. High school students compete here. Families gather here, and swim meets are held here. Elderly citizens exercise here with no risk of falling. The Swim Center is an essential part of the quality of life for every demographic in the city of Palm Springs.
We need to make our collective voice heard. Treat our Swim Center with the care it requires and the respect it deserves.
Christian Draz is a snowbird from Boston who has owned a midcentury home in Indian Canyons since 2019.