L.A. Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Allen White ruled on June 30 to dismiss the Friends of the Temescal Pool’s lawsuit, which asked the court to order the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy to repair and reopen the former YMCA-operated pool in Temescal Canyon. ’We’re disappointed in the decision; we and our lawyers believe that the motion was wrongly decided,’ Friends President Jane Albrecht told the Palisadian-Post on Monday. She said the group will appeal the ruling to the California Court of Appeal. In January, Friends, along with a group of 12 elderly and/or disabled residents, filed the lawsuit against the Conservancy and its partner, the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority. This spring, the Conservancy filed a demurrer (motion to dismiss) the case, and a hearing was held before White on June 18. Friends argued that the Conservancy violated its agreement with the Presbyterian Synod, from which the state agency purchased the land in 1994, by failing to keep the pool open last year and did not meet its obligations under Proposition A (which provided some of the funding for the state to purchase the park), the Americans with Disabilities Act and the California Disabled Persons Act to provide recreational opportunities and access for disabled and senior citizens. According to the lawsuit, ‘The pool was the only part of Temescal Gateway Park that was open and accessible for recreation use by many handicapped and senior citizens of the community.’ The YMCA, which leased the handicapped-accessible pool, offered rehabilitation programs. The pool was initially closed in February 2008 for repairs, which were estimated to cost $400,000, and in December, the Conservancy board decided to develop a long-term plan for the park before possibly offering a new pool lease to the YMCA or another entity. The board also chose to temporarily fill in the empty pool with gravel and dirt, declaring liability concerns. ’No decision has been made as to the future use of the site,’ according to a press release from the Conservancy on July 7. Conservancy Executive Director Joe Edmiston wrote to the Post on Tuesday saying that the planning process remains halted because the state froze bond spending in the midst of its budget crisis. The Conservancy had hired Dudek, an environmental and engineering consulting firm headquartered in Encinitas, to facilitate that process. Edmiston believes it could be another year before the legal issues with the Friends are resolved. ‘By then, let’s hope, all the budget freezes will be over and we can begin planning work again,’ he wrote. Laurie Collins, the Conservancy’s chief staff counsel, told the Post on Monday that ‘I think that the judge ruled correctly, and I don’t think they have any grounds for an appeal.’ In this situation, the judge could have given Friends the opportunity to amend its complaint, so the lawsuit could move forward, but ‘she found no validity at all to their causes of action,’ Collins said. White wrote in her ruling on June 30 that the Proposition A funds used to purchase the property were to benefit projects for at-risk youth. ‘Nowhere does Proposition A require the maintenance of the pool to benefit disabled persons nor require that the pool be maintained in perpetuity,’ she wrote. White also did not accept the Friends’ allegations that the pool closure violates ADA or CDPA. She wrote that the ‘plaintiffs fail to allege that the Conservancy has denied them access to the park or failed to remove architectural barriers to the use of the park.’ At the June 18 hearing, Friends agreed to concede its charges that the Conservancy breached its agreement with the Presbyterian Synod by failing to keep the pool open. Albrecht said the group did not believe that point was the crux of its argument. Albrecht continued that Friends is not discouraged by the ruling, which she believes could be reversed in the appeal. In addition, ‘the court case was one small part of our effort to save the pool,’ she said. Friends still hope to collaborate with the Conservancy and is developing a business plan to reopen the pool that will be announced in the next few weeks. ‘We want to find a solution that benefits the people and the park,’ Albrecht said. ‘We’re proceeding full speed ahead and are optimistic.’ The group has already received a donation of $100,000 to repair the pool from Stephen Groner, a real estate investor who lives in Santa Barbara. Groner’s mother, Barbara Groner, drove from Santa Monica to swim at the pool every day for 15 years before she died last year. In addition, Friends has continued its community activism, with about 60 people marching in the Fourth of July parade next to a 40-ft.-by-20-ft. ‘Save the Pool’ sign being hauled on a flatbed trailer. Ilene Cassidy, co-founder of Friends, rode in the parade as one of the Community Council’s Golden Sparkplug winners for her efforts to save the pool. All along the route, Cassidy said, ‘people were screaming ‘Save the Pool’ and shouting with support. It was overwhelming. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.’ Albrecht said that the march was not meant to be a protest, but a remembrance of the fun people had at the pool every summer and year-round for many decades. ‘I was delighted to see the broad and enthusiastic support that we received from the crowd,’ she said.
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