Doors leading to new outdoor swimming pools would have to be equipped with alarms under proposed regulations unveiled by city officials Tuesday.
The new rules would also require changes in fences surrounding pools, making them more difficult for children to climb.
"I'm certain that this is going to be opposed," Councilwoman Joy Picus said at a poolside press conference held at her son's North Hollywood house. "But it's modest in price and it's a precaution that needs to be there."
If adopted by the city's Building and Safety Commission, the rules would be written into the city's building codes and would apply to anyone constructing a new pool in Los Angeles.
The proposals were announced a week after Tujunga twins drowned in a neighbor's pool. Tyler and Quinn Gugler, 2 years old, entered the fenced pool area through a gate that had been propped open.
But Picus said the drownings did not prompt the proposed changes. "I've been involved in this with the Department of Building and Safety for over a year and a half now," she said.
Drowning is the leading cause of death for children 4 and younger in Los Angeles County, said Billie Weiss, a county Health Department epidemiologist who specializes in injury prevention. Last year, 32 children in that age group drowned, she said.
Nationwide, about 250 children die in back yard drownings each year, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in Bethesda, Md.
Under current law, residential pools must be enclosed on all sides, but the house can count as one side of the enclosure, leaving the back door as a means of access for children to enter the pool. Alarms would be required only for pools directly accessible from a house door, not for those completely fenced, Picus said. Door alarms cost about $25, she said.
Under the new regulations, the mesh in chain-link fences could be no larger than 1 1/4 inches, instead of the current two inches. The smaller size would make it more difficult for a child to climb the fence, Picus said. Stone or masonry walls could not have indentations that might provide footholds. Under the rules, aboveground pools for the first time would be subject to the same building regulations as other pools.
Building and Safety officials plan to schedule public hearings before the commission makes its decision. If approved by the panel, the new rules could take effect within three months, said Richard Holguin, assistant chief of the Building Bureau for the city's Department of Building and Safety.
Already, the proposed regulations are proving controversial.
"Alarms are not well tested and they're easily disconnected," said Weiss, the county epidemiologist, who favors regulations requiring four-sided fencing.
David Karmol, spokesman for the National Spa and Pool Institute in Alexandria, Va., suggested that pool owners who do not have four-side fences be given an option of installing an alarm, a power safety cover or self-closing, self-latching fence doors.
"Not every pool is the same and not every family has the same needs," he said. "Requiring the same device for everyone really doesn't make a lot of sense. Less than 25% of pool owners have children under age 6."
Los Angeles is among a small group of cities considering or enacting tougher pool regulations.
Last year, Phoenix instituted the nation's strictest pool rules, requiring four-side fences for all back yard pools after it reached the the highest per capita rate of child drownings in the nation.
The Los Angeles regulations may be applied to existing pools as well, officials said.
"We hope eventually to make it retroactive, required when a house is sold" or renovations are made, Picus said. Such an action would require the City Council's approval.