LAGUNA BEACH – Just three weeks after putting 54 new pool applications on hold, the City Council rescinded its moratorium on new swimming pools while implementing other water conservation rules.
The move Tuesday came amid criticism from homeowners, architects and pool industry representatives who questioned the council’s July 14 ruling which put a 45-day moratorium on all new construction of pools and spas in the city.
John Norwood, president of the California Pool and Spa Association, told the council about his group’s statewide campaign known as “Let’s Pool Together,” that emphasizes smart ways for pool use and ways to conserve water.
“Our association is opposed to any moratorium,” he said. “That is highly discriminatory and contrary to long-term water-saving goals.”
Norwood and other pool industry folks spoke about the misconceptions about water usage in pools, advocating that a well-maintained pool or spa uses less water per day than an irrigated lawn. They also pointed out that pool designs include more than just the pool itself; wooden or concrete decks also replace traditional landscaping and the need for water.
After at least 25 speakers who asked that the council “back off” on the new pool ban, city leaders unanimously voted to immediately lift the ban, which was in its 21st day.
In its place, they voted unanimously for a temporary mandate for the use of covers on pools and spas when not in use. They also prohibited auto-fill systems in swimming pools and spas and prohibited any new applications for decorative water features and ponds that don’t function with a recirculating pump system.
Mayor Bob Whalen defended the council’s earlier action to ban new pools, saying it was not made out of emotion or reaction but rather gave the council time to study water-saving mechanisms to help the city get to the state-mandated water conservation levels.
The council’s unanimous vote in July made Laguna Beach the first city in Southern California to ban new pool construction and the second one statewide. City officials in Milpitas, a city near San Jose, stopped all new pool construction by passing an emergency ordinance in June. Both cities passed the ban in the wake of the state’s emergency drought declaration.
Two other cities – Santa Barbara and Malibu – considered the moratoriums this year but decided not to go forward with plans.
Laguna Beach’s decision was part of a larger discussion on ways to conserve water. Councilwoman Toni Iseman said in July that a measure to stop construction of new swimming pools – which in some cases take as much as 30,000 gallons to fill – is the “patriotic duty” of residents during California’s historic drought.
Janice Hobbs with her partner Roula Fawaz have spent nearly four years planning their home remodel to include a 30-foot-by-15-foot swimming pool were among 28 applicants waiting to go through the city’s Design Review Board over the next eight weeks. Twenty-six other pool applications are queued up after them with partial plans ready for review.
When the ban was put in place in July, they were worried their dream home and pool might just be a dream.
But Tuesday night, Hobbs and Fawaz, were heartened by the positive testimony from pool supporters.
“We heard a lot of testimony about pools being a positive thing in people’s lives and not wasting water in a factual analysis,” Hobbs said. “I think there was a benefit for the whole process. By doing the 5-0 vote (for the ban in July), they got all these people to speak out with only two dissenters. If this is what it takes to get people into the discussion, then it worked.”