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Rinconada Pool closed again

Original post made by Jake on Jul 30, 2007

Last Saturday, (7/28) the Rinconada Big Pool was once
again closed for recreational swimming, apparently for
lack of staff. This has been a problem in recent summers.
Any thoughts/ideas/solutions on how we can keep our pool
open during the summer?

Comments (59)

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 30, 2007 at 10:09 am

I am told that the teenagers who would normally be trained as lifeguards do not want the jobs. They say they can be paid more as workers at Starbucks, etc. and these jobs continue into the school year. It is again our Palo Alto system, the locals want the glam jobs and the glam money. It is no longer "cool" to be a lifeguard.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 30, 2007 at 11:27 am

Staff from the new Green Weenie budget.
As usual, cut where it hurts the public most, just like the foothill fire station, never the perks and playthings.

Posted by Katrina, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 30, 2007 at 11:44 am

Swimming at Rinconada is a wonderful community event. At peak use there are hundreds of individuals and families there. We pay for entry each time and we support the recreation area with our taxes. Can we figure out better management so that staff shortage and closures are less frequent? Being closed for a peak summer weekend day seems a shame. Thank you!

Posted by JFP, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 30, 2007 at 11:49 am

They should just out-source the management of the pool. The Y never seems to have this problem.

Posted by Jake, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 30, 2007 at 4:01 pm

fyi - the City website shows lifegaurds starting
pay at $ 9.86 an hour. The price of one adult swim
(non-tickets) is listed at $5.00

Posted by Dorky Palo Alto, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 31, 2007 at 4:47 am

We have the best services in Palo Alto.


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Jul 31, 2007 at 10:14 am

Paul Losch from Parks and Recreation Commission here.

I inquired into this after reading the initial posting. According to staff, there is every summer around this time a day off for staff training. De-brief on what has happened so far in the summer, what to expect the rest of the summer, a bit of team building. I was told that this has been a long standing action that happens each year, and that there were notices posted a few weeks ago to let patrons know about the pool being closed for that day.

I plan to look into this some more, there are a couple of thoughts that came to mind for me after my conversation with staff this morning, but today I have to deal with my day job, so it will have to wait until later this week.

I hope what I have learned and posted here helps with some understanding of the reason for the closure.

Posted by Jake, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 31, 2007 at 10:33 am

Hello Paul,
The staff training was posted for Sunday 7/29.
On Saturday 7/28, the big pool was closed (again)
for lack of staff. The small pool was open, and lap swimming
probably went on as usual later in the day.
Whether rec management is aware, when part of the facility
closes, is an open question. However the age group which loses
the most when the big pool closes, are youth and teens.
If we want more future lifegaurds, let them swim! thanks for your efforts,

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 31, 2007 at 11:48 am

I suspect other city services figure out which is more important, a staff meeting or providing the job they are supposed to provide.

Posted by Becky Trout, Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on Jul 31, 2007 at 5:48 pm

Becky Trout is a registered user.

Rinconada Pool was closed Saturday due to a staff shortage. Sunday's closure was a planned training day, according to Recreation Supervisor Khashayar Alaee.

"The important thing here is safety. We do not want ot put our patrons in a risky position," Alaee said.

Alaee said recruitment and training of qualified lifeguards is a challenge, particularly in the spring and fall. Palo Alto's pay is competitive with other citise, he said, with lifeguards and recreation leaders earning between $9.86 and $18.23.

Between two and 15 lifeguards work at a time, depending on the type of activity in the pool.

Closures are announced at the Aquatics Hotline at 463-4914.

--Hopefully, this helps. Becky

Posted by Rebecca, a resident of Professorville
on Aug 1, 2007 at 9:21 am


From my personal and professional experience staff training is very important and when an organization such as a city pool is open 7 days a week closure is required to make that training happen.

And we are talking about a service which requires trained staff keep everyone safe - so it is even more vital that the staff remains trained and updated on the lastest in safety training and procedures.

I find the dicussion about the closure on Saturday, July 28 of merit and worthwhile but I find your comment about the pool staff deciding that a staff meeting was more important than providing the job they are supposed to provide snarky and off topic.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 1, 2007 at 9:59 am

I consider it to be a management failure when the plant has to shut down to retrain the workers. My attitude toward most meetings is indeed snarky but decidedly on topic.
Scot Adams agrees with me.

Posted by David, a resident of another community
on Aug 1, 2007 at 11:07 am

I absolutely agree with Rebecca. I'd rather have someone save me who's had 100 hours of training, compared to someone who's had 90 hours. I would hope you would have that same feeling too. shutting down a plant isn't a big deal, people's lives aren't at risk. at a pool, however, lives are at a greater risk.

Walter, it sounds like you need an attitude adjustment.

Posted by Palo alto mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 1, 2007 at 11:39 am

Is the pay for a lifeguard at Rinconada on par with what Foothills and the University Club pay? They always seem to have plenty of guards and a lot less people to watch.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 1, 2007 at 1:21 pm

My attitude toward staff meetings is based on years of attending them before I declared, 32 years ago today, no more. Staff meetings are among the least effective ways of training, lagging behind all but the Las Vegas conference. I make no secret of my distaste for such twaddle. Be that as it may, the function of a swimming pool is swimming. I point to an interesting corollary. There is resentment against the refusal to allow a City fire truck to cooperate in the recent memorial service. As important as such services are to public service workers there was never a suggestion that fire protection be shut down to allow participation, because of a long tradition of mutual aid departments taking up the slack. Time to fire someone. That adjusts attitudes marvelously.

Posted by David, a resident of another community
on Aug 1, 2007 at 1:58 pm

Staff meetings are a way for employees and employers to formally (and sometimes informally) check-in with each other, allowing an increase in workflow, capacity, efficiency, etc. Fire protection for one (you said "a City firetruck") is possible if (again, one) truck goes to participate in the memorial service. Last time I checked, Palo Alto has quite an abundance of fire stations. I'm not stating that as an excuse, but if the city felt it proper for a firetruck to participate in a memorial service, as a sign of respect, the other stations would be able to cover the rest.

Posted by Jake, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 1, 2007 at 2:14 pm

Hello Folks,

The intent of my original post was to focus on
solutions to the staffing shortage for recreational
swimming at Rinconada Pool. Unlike training sessions,
these closures are rarely pre-announced, and have been
happening for the last several summers.
Our City once opened Rinconada and several school
pools every summer for recreational swimming. One need
only to take a look at the thread "things I remember about
Palo Alto" to see the positive impact it had on our youth.
Now we are struggling to keep the one public pool we have
on weekends for swimming during the summer,open.
The line must be drawn somewhere. I feel we need a commitment
from our City to do what it takes to staff this program.
That may mean higher wages, whether or not they are currently
"competitive" with other cities. Thanks for all suggestions -

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 1, 2007 at 4:11 pm

It may be time to actually rethink the community pool idea. I am now the member of a private pool, but for the years I had young children and wanted to take them swimming, I found that Rinconada pool was insufficient for my needs.

Firstly, parking was a problem. It was always hard to find somewhere convenient to park. With a baby/toddler, stroller, etc. you do not need to go on a hike when you leave the car to get to the pool.

Next, there is no secure place to leave valuables. When I first started using the pool there was a system whereby you left things in a bag and they were left on a numbered hook behind the desk and you got a pin with a corresponding number. This was not the best system, but it worked. After a few years, they stopped doing this and you had to look after your valuables. Granted I did not take much with me, but car keys must be taken with you and I never felt secure hiding them under a towel while I was in the water with my kids.

Thirdly, and this is where the rethink may need to be done, is the hours. While I still had young children who napped, it was hard to get to the pool early enough to have enough time to make it feel worthwhile the effort. A 30 minute swim before having to get out and get changed is not long enough. As my kids got older and went to various camps, as I picked them up, hot and sweaty, they often asked if they could go swimming, but since most of the camps finished at or about the same time the pool closed, there was no time.

I think having a longer time for recreational swimming, into the evening, would be a great idea. My kids are now old enough to go to the private pool on their own and often go late in the afternoon or early evening. This time seems very practical for them as they can go there after their other activities and just hang out and get some exercise at the time of day when they don't have to worry about sunscreen or getting dressed afterwards, they come home and get straight into pjs.

I wonder if the system is still the same at Rinconada and if others have ideas of how to improve Rinconada.

Posted by Private?, a resident of another community
on Aug 1, 2007 at 5:26 pm

Private clubs are a good idea, but a lot of people, both people in palo alto in general, and people that use rinconada, can't afford to join a private pool. prospective people have to wait on a list to be "accepted." it's a much better idea to have rinconada pool open a lot for those of us who can't afford the university club, foothill club, etc.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 1, 2007 at 5:49 pm


I am sorry if my message was unclear. I am not advocating joining private pools. I am a private pool member and feel privileged to be so. I am just sharing my thoughts on how Rinconada can be improved for the many who use it. My comparisons are just that, comparisons with private pools can help those who plan at the rec. dept.

One idea. How about having lap swims in half the big pool and the other half rec swimming, while the small pool is also open. Closing the small pool when the big pool is completely used for lap swimming seems a waste. Maybe a system whereby combined use for certain times of the day could work.

Posted by Anne, a resident of Addison School
on Aug 1, 2007 at 8:10 pm

I've never lived in a city of such "wealth" where the "common" convenience such as a public pool access were so severely limited. Personally, we pay a tremendous amount in property taxes and cannot believe that the city would not set aside the necessary funds to keep the public pools open longer than Sat/Sun afternoons. What can we do to change this? Do we lobby? Email? Who do we contact?

Posted by 14k/yr, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Aug 1, 2007 at 10:39 pm

Sorry Anne. Welcome to Palo Alto!

You may be paying a large amount of property taxes (like I think I do), but you are not living in a city of wealth. The majority of Palo Altans consider themselves struggling middle class. It may cost a lot to move into Palo Alto now, but you're fooling yourself if you think that you're going to get the amenities that are typically associated with high priced homes (and high property taxes) in other parts of the country.

Posted by Heavenly Palo Alto, a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 2, 2007 at 6:03 am


Here is how it goes about in Palo Alto.

1. You move to Palo Alto all starry eyed.
2. You find services in PA "less" than the services where you moved from.
3. You complain.
4. You are told we have the best services of all.
5. You still complain.
6. You are told you are a loud mouth ("the vocal few")
7. You complain.
8. You learn to live with it.
9. You listen to complainers like "Anne" thinking she is struggling like you did.
10. You learn that "per capita" expense on PA residents is the highest in the bay area, but you still dont see the returns on the expense.
11. You find out that most of the money spent by the city is spent on salaries and pensions.
10. You drive on bumpy roads
100. You move on with life.
1000. You are happy some idiot is going to spend loads of money to buy your house when decide to sell.

Posted by Palo alto mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 2, 2007 at 8:27 am

Dear Private- The reason for Rinconada's hours is because of PASA (swim team). The convenience of the swim team (who also have camps, etc.) takes precedence over the rest of the mere recreational swimmers. I'm sure they pay a lot to use the pool, they use it year-round and don't require lifeguards.

Posted by Private?, a resident of another community
on Aug 2, 2007 at 9:04 am

Sorry, Parent, misunderstood. I've been to private pools, and they really are what they're cracked up to be. One hope I have for Rinconada is it gets to that caliber in cleanliness, staffing, etc.

Mom-Maybe the swim team can work out a deal, like they practice at Jordan, or JLS. The swim team is able to be flexible, I'm sure they don't have to practice when rec swimming is going on. There's something wrong if the rec hours are already scarce, and then you have PASA taking over, kicking everybody out.

Posted by Palo alto mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 2, 2007 at 10:03 am

Private -

PASA doesn't need to be flexible - they have something like 700 kids spread over 4 sites (Rinconada, SCRA, University Club and Alpine Hills) They similarly take over those private pools, reducing the rec swim space to a minimum, but not closing them.

The rec hours are scarce precisely because of swim team. It is a great program, but perhaps they should practice elsewhere during the summer. The Jordan pool is way too small, not sure about JLS.

Rinconada may a less desirable place to be a lifeguard than the other local pools - more kids to watch and only working for a short part of the day (just speculating here). Other pools provide more hours.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 2, 2007 at 11:14 am

Staff meetings that shut down the facility are a sign of poor management and arrogance, both in good supply at city hall.

Posted by Anne, a resident of Addison School
on Aug 2, 2007 at 11:28 am

Struggling middle class we all may be, and I don't disagree with that at all - despite the high real estate prices and touting by city hall as being a great city. But I grew up in middle america where we were all poor - by any standards - and the city pool was always open. So I guess I am still in the step #7 of Heavenly's post as I haven't accepted this as the final answer... yet.

Posted by Judy, a resident of Professorville
on Aug 2, 2007 at 11:46 am

Anne is onto something. How many people, having stretched to buy in Palo Alto based (in part) on its reputation for city services are appalled when they find that it's no better - and in many cases worse - than where they came from. Rinconada's recent problems are only the most recent example of an overpaid bureaucracy that can't manage to supply a decent level of municipal services.

Nice list, Heavenly!

Posted by Private?, a resident of another community
on Aug 2, 2007 at 1:35 pm

Explain to me in great detail how you can have an all-cumulative staff meeting, and still have the facility running at 100%. It doesn't make sense to me.

Posted by J, a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 2, 2007 at 2:10 pm

I would like to bring up a few points as someone who has lifeguarded/managed & taught at Rinconada (many years ago!)as well as has run other successful aquatic programs in the past. There are a few points I would like to make.

- Yes, tax dollars contribute to city recreation, but if you really look into it, you would see barely any of it goes to Parks & Rec. Your percentage is way lower than you might think.

- Pools are money losers. The overhead of a pool is very high and that is why many pools are only open in the summer. Rinconada could not survive without the aide of Masters and Youth Swim Teams helping to fund it and pay for operations.

- As an individual, sometimes it is hard to recognize the entire need of a community. Although your need might been recreational swim, another's is lap swim and many more are for organized aquatic programming- not to mention Palo Alto public pools are leaving out other groups- divers, synchronized swimmers, Master's Water Polo, etc. There are only so many lanes and so much prime pool time available.

- Staffing is difficult. Although you would think many high school and college kids would jump at a chance for a great summer job, there are many requirements to becoming a lifeguard and a lot of training in order to keep up with the constant changing of red cross and safety policies. Without constant check-ins and training days, unused skills begin to deteriorate. I would rather know that my staff is ready for anything.

- Also, many kids in Palo Alto don't need to work. Staff commits to the entire summer, but then their family springs a summer vacation on them. This happens a lot. In an ideal world, yes, people should commit and stick to their word to work the entire summer. Unfortunately, the staff holds the cards. If you are just adequately staffed enough to begin with, imagine what happens when people call in sick or go on vacation. The city does not have the luxury to turn away summer staff because they won't be available for one week during the season.

- Lastly, if there was an incident at Rinconada due to lack of the staff, the outcome would have been exponentially worse. It is a shame that some people could not enjoy a swim, but at least no one got hurt.

- Were any of the other pools open that day? Gunn? JLS?

I am just trying to shed some light on some of these issues that I have reading about on this thread. I think the running of public pools is a difficult task when you look at all sides. Having done it, I can speak from personal experience. Everyone has valid complaints- it's about finding a happy medium. If you have constructive suggestions, I am sure the Dept. will listen to you, just make sure you think about all of the other user needs before you come up with your solution.

Posted by yet another parent, a resident of Escondido School
on Aug 2, 2007 at 2:27 pm

I never imagined I'd say this, but I'm with Walter on this one. If the pool has such limited hours, can't a staff meeting occur on an 'off' day? Why a prime-time weekend? How about a mid-week day when PASA overtakes the pool? Aside from lacking a level of services proportional to our tax dollars, this city lacks common sense proportional to our education.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 2, 2007 at 2:56 pm

I question the efficacy of any all-hands meeting teaching anything significant. If I had to get everyone together I might authorize overtime, but I would determine first whether the purpose could be better conveyed by small group meetings during the regular work hours. The purpose of the pool is swimming, not employing people. The tail should not wag the dog.

Posted by J, a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 2, 2007 at 3:12 pm

Their meetings are probably not just lecture. They also do practical drills like back-boarding victims, mock rescues, etc. You cannot virtually train lifeguards.

I am guessing a mid-week meeting is difficult too since during the week I believe the staff operates 3 or 4 municipal pools, teach swim lessons and guards rec and lap swims. I do think it is odd though, that the day before a MANDATORY staff meeting, they were short staffed.

Again, not agreeing with their practices- I don't even know the details of what truly happened. Just giving input on what I have been reading.

Posted by B, a resident of another community
on Aug 2, 2007 at 3:22 pm

I have also managed/guarded/taught at Rinc like J. J's post is exactly right.

Something else to consider is that the city has contracts with camps to come to the pool during the week. It is a consistent source of revenue. We had summers where the weather was awful, and the only patrons in the pool were camp participants (and their counselors).

The pool also offers wonderful lessons. Between all of the programming offered and the consistent use of the pool, it is not feasible to close the pool on a weekday. Some of the staff work at multiple pools or jobs. It's difficult enough to get them together at one time before the season begins. The community should consider themselves very lucky (especially now that the pool was renovated some years ago).

Another comment I'd like to include... the staff training is where I learned to save lives. We did role plays of how we would handle specific situations that reinforced our lifeguard training. It allowed us to learn how we would respond to emergencies together. I, a 130 pound female, learned that I could rescue and backboard a 250 pound male- by myself. Knowing that the lifeguards have that kind of knowledge and confidence should make you feel a little better about missing one day of swimming. I know that I feel that way now that I have kids.

Maybe the community would be better off with another pool on the other side of town... Gunn desperately needs a new pool. The school district has worked with the city in the past on recreation programs.

Ok.. just my 2 cents.

Posted by Jake, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 2, 2007 at 4:46 pm

Hello J, Hello B,

Thank you for your comments. It's helpful to get input from folks who used to work at Rinconada. But, J , things have changed alot since you were here. The City no longer opens school pools, except for Gunn a few hours on weekdays. When Rinconada doesn't open for recreational swimming, there is no alternative on weekends. Perhaps the closing of the school pools has led to a smaller staff in general, and made
the problem worse. In recent summers I have seen the big pool closed in the middle of recreational swim, swimmers asked to get out because of lack of staff! Did you ever do this?
B, I can appreciate that we are fortunate to have a wonderful facility like Rinconada. But I doubt the many kids and families turned away at the door felt "lucky".
My hope is to focus on what can be done to staff the recreational swim program. If guarding had the degree of responsibilities J and B describe, then maybe the City should pay their guards more than the current levels, and fill these positions.
Thanks for all suggestions,

Posted by J, a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 2, 2007 at 5:02 pm


Thanks for clarifying. Wow, that is amazing that all of the school pools are closed now. We used to fill lessons at all of the pools back in the day!
It's a tough battle finding staff. If any of you are parents of teens or have nieces and nephews, I would encourage you to talk to the young ones you know about getting a lifeguarding job. It is a great paying job for high school kids and college students and allows them to be outside, with their peers and if they enjoy kids- having fun! I loved teaching swimming and the city was a great place to work as a part time employee. For those who have kids interested in the future, most cities offer Junior Lifeguard programs for kids 11-14. It's volunteer but similar to a CIT position with a camp where they learn about the job, participate and also gain work experience and the responsibility a "job" requires. Kids that go through those types of programs usually get hired as paid staff once they are 15 or 16 and sometimes at a higher starting rate as an incentive!

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 2, 2007 at 5:06 pm

Is this a problem unique to Palo Alto, or do neighboring cities have problems with getting staff for their pools?

Posted by B, a resident of another community
on Aug 2, 2007 at 5:37 pm

Parent -

It is not unique to Palo Alto. A lot of cities have done away with city pools (look at Menlo Park which chose to go private). My brother lives in Belmont and there are no pools for him to take his kids to on weekends (that don't charge a great deal like the PAC does). This is what I meant when I said that PA should feel lucky to have Rinc.

Maybe if kids got the message that working as a lifeguard/swim teacher is a valuable experience, then we'd have more of them. But some of these kids think they need to have an internship or go to school during the summer. I felt that pressure when I was in college, so I did an internship (unpaid) in the morning and worked at the pool all afternoon.

So maybe that's a good thing for you employers to take out of this conversation. A person who chooses to spend their summer working at a pool is not just "hanging out". There is a great deal of knowledge, responsibility, and patience to do that job. I can only hope that current employers value that type of work experience.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 2, 2007 at 5:51 pm


I think you have come once again up against the Palo Alto problem. Many parents think that lifeguarding doesn't look good on college apps and would rather have their kids doing an internship. These kids don't get too much say in it, unfortunately. For those who do, they seem to want to get jobs which they can continue as an after school job through the schoolyear, e.g. Starbucks or Jamba Juice.

Posted by Jake, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 3, 2007 at 1:00 pm

Parent, J, B -

Some companies give letters of recognition
to their employees for certain activities. We these be of any
value to the portfolio of our pool staff members?
Is this a practical idea?

Posted by Palo alto mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 3, 2007 at 2:21 pm

Does anyone know why the school pools are not available to the public during the summer? Is it just money? Paly has a beautiful pool, what is it used for during the summer?

Posted by How to run a swim program, a resident of Professorville
on Aug 4, 2007 at 12:59 am

Look no further than our neighbors in Menlo Park. They outsourced their Burgess Pool operations and seem to be doing quite well. Well enough, that this Palo Alto parent takes his daughter to swim lessons there every week. Very professional and very well managed. Sometimes the private sector works!

Posted by Happy at Burgess Pool, a resident of Professorville
on Aug 4, 2007 at 1:56 am

I want to second the motion about Menlo Park's great Burgess Pool operations. We take our daughter there for lessons twice a week. They are fully staffed with lifeguards, and very well managed. They have a superb swimming program and are thriving. Rinconada can't hold a candle to this program that was privatized, and is professionally run. Those bureaucrats at Rinconada, closing the pool on a weekend for a staff meeting need to lose their jobs. Off with their heads, privatize the pool to keep it open and clean.

Posted by Jake, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 4, 2007 at 12:05 pm

Hello Happy Burgess Folks,
Let's take a look at the advantages of going private:
1)a comprehensive look at pool usage. The current usage amounts have
grown organically through the years, with the less organized
recreational swimmers losing some hours to more organized groups.
For example, the Adult Lap Swimmers literally stood in front of
the gates with petitions to gain more hours.
2) a comprensive look at costs and revenue. We don't know what the
private groups contribute, without looking at the contracts, whether
it is "alot" or something less. But the big view would look at this,
plus how much the City contributes to the facilty.
3) a commitment to run and staff the programs. I don't feel, at this time, we have that from the City( for recreational swimming). We hear all the reasons it is difficult to do, never a commitment.
It's is hard for me to believe that going private, is what it will take to staff the pool, but if so, maybe it should be done.
BTW- in fairness to Rinconada, Burgess has a nice, new facility
( I think ), so it is bound to be cleaner.
Thanks for all suggestions-

Posted by what the heck??, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 5, 2007 at 8:55 am

I am trying to imagine McDonalds closing at lunch time for a staff meeting....akin to closing the pool on a week-end, at all, or during any afternoon time, at all.

Posted by Mike, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 5, 2007 at 1:42 pm

The Menlo Park pool puts Rinconada pool to shame. And they have longer hours.

Why does training have to happen on weekends. Weekends are surely peak pool hours, no?

How are we supposed to get our kids outside to exercise when the pool is closed on a Sunday?

Posted by Lorraine, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 5, 2007 at 3:38 pm

Since Rinconada closes at 4:30, how about using all that daylight savings time when the pool is closed to conduct the training sessions. I was very surprised to learn that there is no late afternoon/evening swimming at the pool. Someone needs to take a look at the whole set-up.

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Aug 5, 2007 at 4:31 pm

Comments noted.

I have a meeting with some city staff people this coming week, and plan to discuss the pool at that time.

Paul Losch
Parks and Recreation Commission

Posted by Jake, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 5, 2007 at 7:27 pm

Hello Paul,
Thank you for discussing this issue with City staff.
We are fortunate to have a commissioner who keeps in touch
with the pulse of the community, and advocates on their behalf.

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Aug 6, 2007 at 8:55 am


You are welcome. Typically there always seems to be more to the story than what each of us has with our paticular understanding, POV and perception, but there are some common sense questions about this that need to be asked.

I will provide some thoughts after my discussions.

Paul Losch
Parks and Recreation Commission

Posted by old lifeguard, a resident of another community
on Aug 6, 2007 at 9:42 am

Ricnonada always gets short-handed towards the end of summer as guards families take vacations, etc. They VERY heavily staff the pool-- comparing their staffing to a private club is irrelevant. Most private clubs will have one or two guards on duty with minimal rotations, while Rinconada has several rotating on and off station. I suspect that the liability is lower at a private pool, hence the light staffing

Posted by Happy at Burgess Pool, a resident of Professorville
on Aug 6, 2007 at 10:33 am

Burgess Pool is run professionally and staggers the guards end of summer vacations. They do not run the pool as if the lifeguards are paid volunteers but treat them as employees. Burgess pool also heavily staffs the pool, rotating them on and off station. I generally note at least 4 guards on duty at a time excluding the supervisors that are on their feet and making sure everything is running smoothly. It appears Rinconada NEVER has light staffing. They either have enough lifeguards or they close the pool. Perhaps if they docked the Rinconada staff their weekly pay everytime they failed to have enough employees to open for business (dock them double pay for weekend closures)and we'll have more reliable service.

Posted by Swimmer John, a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 6, 2007 at 7:52 pm

As a longtime swimmer at Rinconada Pool I recognize and appreciate the importance of well trained lifeguards. However closing the pool for an entire weekend day in the middle of summer for lifeguard training is misguided when many Palo Altans go swimming on weekend days in summer. There are certainly other days and times when such training could take place which would not interrupt summer recreation swim times.

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Aug 9, 2007 at 2:17 pm

Paul Losch from Parks and Recreation here.

Here are my thoughts about the pool closing matters from a couple weekends ago:

1. Sunday Training day: Sunday turns out to be the "least worst day" on which to take staff away from the pool for this. During the summer, there are numerous activities taking place daily at the pool, and while Sunday also is a busy day, it is less so than are other days. Safety and related training are critical to operating a pool like this, and while it is not desirable to close it for this purpose, it is being done for the right reasons. I conjecture that there is the possiblity with staff of staggering the training sessions, but doing that would require additional budget and expenditure, and may not be as effective as an "all hands" training. Disdain for meetings is something many acquire after some years of experiencing them, but there is a time and place for meetings, and my opinion is such is the case here.

2. Saturday closure due to staff shortage: my effort was to see if there was somehing systemic that contributed to this closure, which seems to be generally acknowledged as unfortunate. I do not detect a systemic problem, but there clearly was a confluence of circumstances that led to expected lifeguards not reporting to work, and the time to find replacements was insufficient. The manager made the safe decision by not allowing the pool to operate with insufficient staff, and my understanding is that the pool re-opened in the afternoon after replacement life guards were in place. City staff is reviewing its communication processes to be sure that something of this sort does not recur, and the community is entitled to expect that processes will be in place accordingly. I think we should view this situation as a data point, not a trend. If something of this sort occurs again in the near future, there may be a need to take a closer look at what is going on, but this may be no different than what occurs from time to time with air travel or morning commutes where "stuff" happens, but there is nothing inherently flawed with how things are being run. You work through it and get over it. Cursing under your breath is optional, but common.

The fact that both instances occurred on the same weekend I think is entirely coincidental, there does not appear to be a connection betwee the two.

So, a series of events that happened to occur over the course of one weekend, creating some understandable negative impressions. I see no reason for this to be looked into further at this time, based on what I know about this particular weekend, but certainly if what transpired becomes a pattern, it will need to be looked into further.

On the matter of how this pool operates compared to other city pools or private pools, that really is a larger question than what may have happened around a staff shortage or training policies. There are different operating models out there, the Riconada model is one which many like very much and others are of the opinion that it should be something else. In that regard, it shares traits with just about everything else that goes on in Palo Alto.

I hope this helps.

Posted by Jake, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 10, 2007 at 3:16 pm

Hello Paul,

Thank you for taking the time to check into this issue.
One lingering concern I have, is that rec management may not be aware
of the times when rec swim has been canceled, thereby denying the discussion about a possible systemic problem, valuable data. For example, the big pool was closed for lack of staff in June, 07 as well.
With that said, I think I can speak for many in the community when I say we are grateful to have a commissioner who proactively checks
into these matters, and holds our City management accountable
for their results.
Let's swim!

Posted by Swimmer, a resident of Ventura
on Aug 13, 2007 at 4:58 pm

Maybe it was closed because the Lifeguards were competing in the Northern CA Lifeguard Games?
See page 3: Web Link

Posted by resident, a resident of another community
on Aug 27, 2007 at 9:37 am

This issue has much more publicity than it deserves. It was one weekend, and that one weekend was used for the lifeguards to test their abilities as a rescuer. Rinconada swimmers should be satisfied that the Rinconada swimmers dedicate so many of their own hours to train so that guests are safe. It is "cool" to be a lifeguard; it is even "cooler" to be a prepared lifeguard. The closure dates were posted two weeks in advance throughout the facilities.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 18, 2007 at 3:08 pm

I am a former lifeguard - both pools and beaches. I also served as the Asst Mgr at Burgess (decades ago) and was the head lifeguard at a major university with 5 pools to staff. Present day, I serve as a member of a board of directors at one of the local private clubs. Though late in the game for this debate, I'd like to add my 2 cents:

Training can never be over-rated. The important point to emphasize is training vs. a "meeting". Lifeguards must have both individual skills and certifications (CPR, etc.), as well as training and skill development working as a team. While an individual lifeguard may initiate a rescue, that rescue always ends up as a team response. It is important that every pool staff has pre-season training and continues that training to hone, improve and further develop their staff throughout the season. Staff must always be prepared for the worse-case scenario.

As for the unavailability of staff during the summer. The reality is that most Palo Alto families do place an emphasis on family activities. Vacations happen. Further - just look at the talent pool (sorry for the pun) - a vast majority of the lifeguards are also competitive swimmers and water polo players. Guess what swimmers and water polo players do just about every weekend (Sat & Sun) during the summer? They compete! So the typical weekend guard staff consists of those kids who don't compete. Given that there are somewhat rigorous requirements to attain certification - the number of non-competitive lifeguard kids out there is a relatively small percentage of able-bodied kids. If you tell the competitive kids that they have to give up their weekends, then they're going to say bye-bye and look elsewhere. Guarding is a great job - but the number of qualified employees is rather small.

Plus Palo Alto has to compete for guards on more than just an hourly wage basis. Private clubs usually offer the same or slightly better wages ... but those clubs also have very enticing benefits: at least one free meal a day, plenty of soft drinks, plenty of breaks, less crowded pools, and a much more relaxed working environment ... no bus loads of summer school kids or day campers ... most clubs require children under 14 to be with a parent, so the behavior problems don't creep up like they do when tons of unsupervised kids show up at Rinconada. (Yes - the camps/schools have counselors, but the counselors have nothing to do with pool supervision - usually they're in the locker rooms, etc.).

Also, private clubs offer a much more lucrative swim lesson compensation package (usually a percentage basis), while the city only pays by the hour. City swim lessons will usually have 6-8 kids per lesson ... a private club lesson is typically 1-2 kids and the guard/instructor makes more money in a half hour than they would in an one hour with the city.

The Jr Lifeguard program is a very important component to Riconada's staffing needs. The program has grown exponentially in the last 4 years. Without the jr guards, it is likely that Riconada would have staffing shortages on a daily basis. JG's pay to be part of the program. JG's assist with swim lessons and they act as deck monitors during rec. swim hours Mon-Sat. If the JG's did not exist, the city would need to hire and pay additional "regular" guards in order to properly staff the pool and it's surrounding areas. This summer the Jr Lifeguard team received training on Friday mornings. This was the only weekday morning where Riconada did not conduct swim lessons. Perhaps the staff can look at ways to expand regular lifeguard training to take place on Friday mornings as well(?). My other idea is that Rinconada consider running their training sessions on Saturday mornings - before the pool opens.

Paly pool ... it is managed and rented out by the school aquatic staff. It is rented throughout the summer by swim teams (PASA) and water polo teams. The pool is also frequently scheduled for water polo competitions on weekends. The bottom line is that pool has limited and infrequent time slots available for city programs.

Gunn pool ... the only reason this pool is available is because it is (frankly) an awful pool for competitive swimming and water polo training and/or competition events. Once Gunn is able to raise enough money to build a new pool, you can count on the Gunn pool to be mostly unavailable to city programs. If the city is smart, it may want to consider "investing" in the Gunn pool remodel, thereby gaining a foothold on guaranteeing summer hours after the remodel. Otherwise the city will most likely lose any chance to get decent hours with so many private programs willing to pay decent rental fees for prime time. Both PASA and the Stanford water polo programs will be front in line.

Middle school pools ... someone has to come up with the funds to pay for the pumps/electricity, gas/heat, chemicals and the overhead to staff these pools. Without summer use, the schools don't have to heat the pools nor do they have to use a lot chemicals and run their pumps at full-throttle to keep the water clean. Further, the pools have very small shallow-end areas and are not conducive to young children/families. The schools cannot afford to operate these pools at their expense - the city would have to pay 100% of the additional costs to run the pools on a full-time basis. If I were to consider opening a middle school for swimming - perhaps on a limited basis for lap swimmers during the summer (move away from Rinconada). That way you only need 1-2 lifeguards ... but the operational costs may be cost prohibitive.

At our club we occasionally have staffing issues with our lifeguards. The problems come by the usual reasons: family vacations, other activities (typically lifeguards are competitive swimmers or water polo players ... weekends are when they have their events), or some teens are just plain flakes. However, since we are a private club our insurance policy allows us to open our pool with or without lifeguard staff. Of course we prefer to have staff on busy summer days - but sometimes that becomes difficult to do and we operate with 1-2 guards for the day instead of a rotating staff of 5. And to no one's surprise, the toughest time of year to staff a pool is late July through August.

Criticism of PASA ... my kids are not on any swim team so I feel I can defend this program without bias. PASA's rental fee for Rinconada goes a long way towards paying the monthly utility costs of keeping the pool open on a year-round basis. If PASA was kicked out, Rinconada would close except for the summer months. To be fair to PASA, letting them only have access during the school year would not be very equitable - they pay the freight but cannot have full access? PASA not only uses Rinconada, they rent pool space from SCRA, Foothills and Fremont Hills. Their two other sites (University and Alpine) are sponsored by those clubs and the kids swimming at those two sites are mostly members of those particular clubs. In the summer, PASA does shrink down some of its use of Rinconada by training their kids at long course (50 meter) pools when available. PASA has rented early morning space at Fremont Hills, Stanford and Sacred Heart when those facilities had time/space. Also - since USA Swimming coaches are safety certified and, the swim teams carry their own liability insurance through USA Swimming, the city does not need to provide staff or funds during PASA operations. Bottom line is that you do not want to push out the largest single contributor to offsetting Rinconada overhead costs.

The staff training timing is an issue that can be solved with some creativity. However staff shortages are a constant battle faced by all pools in the area and the problem is unlikely to go away.

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