L.A. Puts Squeeze on Private Swim Club

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Originally, they thought of storming City Hall wearing nothing more than Speedo swim trunks and plastic racing goggles. Ultimately, they settled on the Westwood Recreation Center, where about 200 of them--some carrying placards and towels--protested in their swimming attire over the weekend.

But on Monday, members of a private Westside swimming club decided to dress up rather than down when they confronted members of the Los Angeles Board of Recreation and Park Commissioners over a proposal to restrict their use of the city's Westwood swimming pool.

They came in starched shirts, sport coats and wing-tip shoes and carried documents they referred to as "exhibits." It was time to speak the language of the commissioners, all of whom are attorneys.

In the end, though, wool suits were no more effective than swim suits. The board unanimously approved a new city policy that forces members of the Southern California Aquatic Masters Swimmers Club to squeeze into five of the pool's 10 lanes. Up until then, the group had been using as many as all 10 lanes at a time.

Leaders of the club say the new policy, which includes higher rental rates for private groups using city pools, could destroy their program by forcing them to double the members' $45 monthly dues.

"We will have Westside yuppies only," said Gerry Rodrigues, a swim club coach. "They have created an exclusive club."

The decision was a victory of sorts for lap swimmers, those who prefer to go it alone in the pool, swimming tirelessly from one end to the other. The swimming club offers a coached workout that involves lap swimming and more--sprinting, kicking, arm pulls and other exercises.

Some lap swimmers weren't satisfied with Monday's board vote. They wanted all lanes to themselves. One heavyset swimmer complained to the board that the private club members were forcing them "to leave or be smushed" by monopolizing lanes.

The comment brought applause from other lap swimmers but snickers from many club members, an indication that all is not well between the two groups. They have been feuding for several months now, with each side accusing the other of bad faith, greediness and disrespect.

Before voting for the new city policy, Commissioner Mary Nichols lectured the swimmers as a mother would defiant children.

"I hope that everyone . . . will behave in an appropriate fashion around the pool and demonstrate that they can all work together, and live together and make this a happy recreational experience for everybody," she said.

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