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Angry Palm Springs homeowners push for reopening pools while HOA cites coronavirus concerns

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Homeowners gathered at the Mountain Gate community in Palm Springs.

They're frustrated that they can't cool off in their 3 community pools, which have been locked since mid-March when the pandemic began.

"What comes to heart is that my family is struggling so much right now. Distance learning is going on. We're all locked at home together and the pool is our safe place. The pool is where we go to let out our energy," said Julie Barda.

Julie Barda has been living in the HOA for 15 years and is leading the fight, along with Jolie Estrada, to get the pools back open.

It's all happening with pools at other valley HOAs open and in use.

Pools in HOAs started reopening back on May 6th, after the Riverside County Department of Environmental Health issued guidance indicating HOA pools could reopen while following recommended guidelines.

"This is unbelievable. This is about abuse of power and control," said Jolie Estrada.

Barda and Estrada say they've been pushing the HOA and management to reopen the pools since mid-May, but say they're only getting "flimsy excuses" and "the runaround".

The group says they've been told by the HOA board and HOA Manager Allen West that the pools can't be used because the HOA doesn't have liability insurance to cover a lawsuit if someone swims in the pool and contracts coronavirus.

We contacted West by phone but he would not comment.

Wanting children to be able to play in the pool, and with seniors wanting exercise, the homeowners say they're willing to sign waivers to use the pools.

"I'm just so frustrated with the amount of time that I've spent on this issue," said Barda.

Greg Rodriguez, the Public Policy Advisor to County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez helped craft the county's HOA pool policy.

"We can't force the HOA to open. I don't personally understand why they won't open," said Rodriguez.

The homeowners say they're next step is legal action.

The attorney for the Mountain Gate Homeowner's Association, Christina Baine DeJardin, would not comment on camera but sent this written statement to News Channel 3:

"The Mountain Gate Board understands that some residents are frustrated and upset that the pools remain closed. However, it is not exercising this power arbitrarily as some residents may perceive. The Board has the difficult task of deciding whether it is in the community’s best interest to re-open the pools in a pandemic. There are specific County guidelines and state guidance that must be implemented when re-opening pools. This means additional, un-budgeted costs for the entire community.

Also, associations are being informed by their insurance carriers that there is no coverage if a person claims that he/she contracted COVID-19 as a result of using the recreational facilities. This could create significant financial exposure for every homeowner. With Riverside County on the state “monitoring list” and COVID-19 cases still on the rise, the Board must carefully consider these additional costs and risks when deciding whether to re-open the pools. The Board is committed to continuously re-evaluating the situation to determine the best way forward. However, its primary concern must be the health and well-being of its residents."

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Tom Tucker

Tom Tucker is a veteran broadcast journalist with nearly 20 years of experience. Learn more about Tom here.

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