NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - We’ve reported on a dangerous Lakeview pool in a series of FOX 8 Defenders reports since November of 2017. It’s one of dozens of pools citywide that is not maintained.
“We’re living scared of a lawsuit that may happen instead of being scared of a child falling into that pool,” New Orleans City Council member Joe Giarrusso said in a recent Governmental Affairs Committee meeting.
Council members discussed the Vicksburg Street pool at length, questioning City Code Enforcement officials who know the pool’s history well.
“We have probably put more effort into pursuing this property than likely any property in the history of Code Enforcement,” City Code Enforcement Director Albert “Snapper” Poche said.
Yet, even after a more than a 10-year history of Code Enforcement violations, the pool is not fixed.
“Even if that 4-foot hole in the back wall is fixed tomorrow, any small child can push their way through the back gate. Will it take one of these children losing their life for the city to fill in this pool and other pools just like it?” Lakeview homeowner Brigette Starr asked.
Starr lives next door to the vacant home and blighted/nuisance home and has attended Code Enforcement hearings for the property for 11 years.
Council member Giarrusso wants the City to declare the pool an emergency and fill it immediately.
“There’s provisions within the City Code which allow the city to take actions under emergency situations, right?” Giarrusso asked.
Code Enforcement leaders said he was correct in that statement. However, they told Council members they’re following the city attorney’s opinion that the conditions around this pool do not constitute an emergency.
“The party that would be injured by this particular hazard would have to go onto the person’s private property to even interact with the hazard. Therefore, it’s a bit different from what we use as an imminent danger of collapse where you as pedestrian can be on a public right of way and a building falls upon you,” City of New Orleans Deputy CAO Chad Dyer said.
Council member Jason Williams called that "a terrible analogy."
“Drowning is the fifth leading cause of unintentional death. That’s for adults, and then it’s even more perilous for children,” Williams said.
“If a child does walk through and dies...is that then an emergency situation after the child is dead? Then do we have the ability to go in and fill up the pool?” Council member Kristen Gisleson Palmer asked.
Besides public safety hazards, neighbors worry about health hazards, saying the pool is a mosquito breeding ground.
“If the city attorney’s ruling holds up, where are we? What is the purpose of Code Enforcement?” concerned Lakeview homeowner Walter Brunken asked.
“I don’t believe in this (Code Enforcement) process right here. I don’t. I’ve lost faith in it, honestly,” Lakeview neighbor Connie Uddo said.
Neighbors have long complained the process of hearings and fines hasn’t worked in this case, and Giarrusso agreed. He cited the city’s own Code of Ordinances, which is specific to the “emergency securing of improperly secured pools for threats to the public health, safety and welfare.” The Code says, “The New Orleans Police Department...or person acting under its authority may...enter upon premises or lot to immediately fill in pools found to be in non compliance.”
“If that doesn’t address it, I will personally address legislation that will,” Giarrusso said.
“The fact that we had this conversation in public, on the record, we’re on notice, right? So when something horrible happens, everybody here in this room will be responsible for it. So even if the city attorney didn’t see it as an emergency before, it is an emergency now,” Williams said.
Just last week, a Code Enforcement hearing officer fined the pool owner, Frances Mussachia, the maximum fine for every violation. She has 30 days to appeal. After that period, if the owner still fails to maintain the pool, the city says it plans to fill it with river sand. Again Council members don’t want to wait, and plan to meet with the city attorney to re-examine her opinion.
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