When the Recreation and Parks Department recently celebrated the opening of the $5.4-million Westwood Recreation Center, Catherine Gaudiano was appalled.
Gaudiano and her friends had spent more than seven years lobbying parks officials for funds to repair the Venice Municipal Pool heating system, only to be told that studies were under way or that the money was unavailable.
"Every year we've had constant breakdowns (of the heating system), and every year we've been told the same thing," Gaudiano said. "As far as I'm concerned, recreation and parks doesn't have a great deal of credibility."
Heating problems have plagued the 21-year-old facility at 2490 Walgrove Ave. for a decade. Swimmers, including members of the Venice High School swim team, say the indoor pool is often closed because the water is too cold.
Accentuating the problem is the fact that the Venice pool is the busiest aquatic facility on the Westside, drawing as many as 70,000 people a year, according to city aquatic director Richard Godino. Among its most frequent users are handicapped people, the elderly and people undergoing physical therapy.
Godino confirmed that the heating system routinely breaks. He said private bids for replacing the system are due in two months, but he could not say when the new system might be installed, how much it will cost or why the work has not been done.
"I don't think the department has purposely delayed anything," Godino said. "No one is certain why it has taken so long to deal with this."
Qualifies for Funds
Money, however, may not be the cause of the holdup. Godino said the Venice pool, located behind Venice High School, qualifies for the same Quimby funds (money paid by private developers for public recreation in areas where the development occurs) as Westwood.
"Venice should be one of the first places to qualify for funds because of its longstanding problems," said Godino, adding that heating systems at several pools are due to be replaced. "The Quimby funds are there."
Godino's superiors in the aquatics section of the parks and recreation department declined to elaborate on the cause of the heating problems or the reasons why Quimby funds were made available in Westwood but not Venice. They referred calls back to Godino's office.
Gaudiano, who produced a series of complaint letters dating back to 1982, contends that Venice residents are victims of an unresponsive bureaucracy.
In her first letter, written almost exactly seven years ago, Gaudiano told parks officials that "the pool often has to be closed because the heater is not functioning. The heater has broken down with increasing frequency."
Parks officials invited Gaudiano to attend a meeting of its aquatic section advisory panel, but warned that funds were short because of budget cuts.
'Action Is Overdue'
In subsequent years, minor repair work was occasionally performed. Gaudiano, however, said the work always proved unsuccessful. "The deterioration of the facility's heating system has been an ongoing problem for several years," she and other pool users wrote in a letter to officials last month. "The 21-year-old heater is in need of replacement. Action on this matter is overdue."
The group, calling itself the Venice Municipal Pool Advisory Committee, also expressed concern to Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter. Galanter's spokesman, Rick Ruiz, said her office is looking into the complaint.
The pool users say they will keep turning up the heat until the heating system problem is resolved. Linda Hamilton, a frequent swimmer, said the Recreation and Parks Department has been making empty promises for years.
"They've been telling us the same thing for a long time," Hamilton said. "So I think it's sort of pie in the sky to expect anything from them now."
Gaudiano, who is 63 and suffering from arthritis, said the pool is vital to people such as herself. "I use it for therapy and for my mental health," she said. "This is one of the few things that people my age can do. "