FOX 8 DEFENDERS: City hasn’t enforced its own rules on emergency swimming pool
It’s considered an emergency according to the City code, yet it remains a risk to health and safety. The FOX 8 Defenders have tracked a swimming pool now the subject of six Code Enforcement hearings in seven years that’s been hit with a hefty fine, but is still considered dangerous.
NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - A vacant 4216 Encampment Street, near Bayou St. John, is the subject of Code Enforcement hearings in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017, 2018, and just last month, in October of 2019 for swimming pool violations.
“There is an order that the City is now taking more positive steps regarding all the bad pools,” Code Enforcement Hearing Officer Tom Robbins said at a hearing for the property in last year, in September of 2018. That’s when he gave the owner 30 days to fill the pool. “That means if you do not fill the pool within 30 days, the City will do so,” hearing facilitator for the City Vanessa Logan told the homeowner, Lydia Henry.
Around the same time last year, the City Council made the law more clear when it comes to cracking down on dangerous pools, authorizing the City to 'immediately fill-in any pool found to be in noncompliance.'
However spokesperson for the Mayor, LaTonya Norton confirmed recently, “there were no individual pools abated under an emergency order." Yet the Encampment pool remains stagnant.
As soon as the recent October hearing started, the pool owner's attorney delayed it when he objected to our camera in the room. "They tend to corrupt a proceeding, and they are not permitted under Louisiana law," attorney Ernest Jones said.
When the hearing officer explained it was a public proceeding, Jones still asked if FOX 8 had written permission for our camera to be there. Logan stepped out for clarification, and soon after, Deputy City Attorney Tammie Jackson addressed the hearing. “I just want to address everyone that this is a public hearing. So it is open to the public. Everyone can attend. We do not have closed hearings,” Jackson said.
The hearing resumed, and the City presented its case. “(The) inspector did go back out regarding a swimming pool having an insufficient barrier, not maintained, unclean and unsanitary, and there was no work in progress on that date,” Logan said.
"I think that is a horrible thing for the neighbors to have to live with this terrible pool with mosquitoes being bred in there," Rita LeGrand with the Bayou District Foundation explained. She told the hearing officer she's expressed concern over the Encampment property at five previous hearings over the years, but not much has changed.
"Now it actually has two tarps," Nicole Patin said. The property owner's relative expressed that after the City's latest October inspection and two days prior to the hearing, they made some changes to the pool.
"That tarp is nailed to the concrete, and it has the stakes.. that's for that.. the tent stakes.. there's no way that would come up unless someone deliberately marches back there and lifts it up," Patin said. She told the hearing officer they also removed the slide.
"I would love to have my place fixed up. I have not gotten my money back from the contractor who messed it up. It's not that I'm just sitting there not doing anything," property owner Lydia Henry said.
"There were five pools two years ago that the FOX 8 Defenders were looking into, and this is the only one left that is not left in protected condition," LeGrand said.
After hearing testimony that the owner covered the pool with a tarp and seeing pictures of that work, the City facilitator accepted that as abatement. "Therefore the City would like to abate this location," Logan said.
The maximum potential fine of about $15,000 was then dropped down to $680, but the hearing officer didn’t agree. “I’m not sure where the notion of just covering a pool cures the problem. It either has to be filled in or working, according to the law,” Robbins said.
Robbins cited the City's Code of Ordinances that "all swimming pools must be maintained in a clean and sanitary condition.. with a functioning filtration system.. surrounded by a fence or barrier at least six feet in height."
“I find none of that present or any evidence of attempts to do that. It’s been a year since the initial inspection,” Robbins said.
Based on that, the City’s facilitator amended her recommendation and gave the owner the maximum fine of $15,000. The hearing officer ruled the property a public nuisance. He said, “it’s creating a menace to the health, safety and welfare of the entire area. It’s an ongoing problem.”
We tracked the pool before and after the October 21st hearing, and after just a few days, rainwater weighed down on the tarp. A week later, half of the tarp could be seen floating in the pool after an even harder rain, and the stagnant water was even deeper.
"Any pool that is unsecured or unfiltered means that it's an emergency," Council member Joe Giarrusso said. He stressed it's clear in a newer City law the Council passed and the Mayor approved.
"It's a health hazard whether you wanna look at it as a mosquito health hazard or whether it's a health hazard because it's an attractive nuisance for children. This is the type of pool that should be filled in," Giarrusso said.
Remember, the law authorizes the City to enter the premises or lot "to immediately fill-in any pool found to be in noncompliance..."
"I don't think any of us want to use the Code Enforcement rules for technical violations. We don't want neighbors snitching on other neighbors and creating other problems, but when you've had a pool that's been a problem for years or anything that's a blight issue, it's the City's job to enforce the rules," Giarrusso explained.
He says neighbors who've lived alongside the blight deserve that. They've lived next to the vacant property and nuisance pool for years while the owner's lived in another parish.
FOX 8 has reached out to the City about this property on several occasions, asking why it never enforced its own order a year ago, and now why it’s not enforcing the Code Enforcement rules, however, there has been no response.
If you’ve got a concern you’d like us to look into, call the FOX 8 Defenders staffed with volunteers from the National Council of Jewish Women or fill out our online complaint form.
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