Will Metz Stay Open?

Recently announced closure draws ire

Will Metz Stay Open?
Photo by Tony Cantu

Eastside residents gathered outside the Metz pool Wednesday, April 29, to protest the city’s decision to close the facility for the summer after determining it was leaking too much water.

Expressing skepticism at those findings, community members instead see the planned closure as further evidence of institutional neglect and dismissiveness of a predominantly Hispanic sector.

“I believe this closure is just another way to get East Austin more gentrified for the rich,” said Rick Luna, 61, who has lived in East Austin his entire life. “They want to build condos.”

His assessment was one shared by his fellow protestors who have seen their part of the city — long a Latino working-class enclave — become increasingly popular for commercial developers. Those gathered posited the planned pool closures as further evidence of a city-sanctioned focus on commercial redevelopment over the quality of life and well-being of Eastside residents. “We want our 'hood to be healthy, not just for the wealthy!” protesters chanted. Some 30 residents — including children who regularly use the facility — carrying signs gathered in solidarity with intermittent protest chants to voice their displeasure, quickly organizing for the hastily planned protest that began at 6:30pm. “Save Metz pool!” they shouted in unison.

City officials had abruptly announced they would close the facility along with the Mabel Davis pool in Southeast Austin after an assessment on water loss at municipal aquatic facilities. Earlier in the day, Bertha Delgado, president of the East Town Lake Citizens Neighborhood Association, led a group to express displeasure at the City Council’s Open Space Committee. The focus of the committee meeting was a Parks and Recreation report indicating municipal pools leaking some 256,000 gallons daily in 2014 — with the most leakage occurring at Metz and Mabel Davis, leaking a collective 46,000 gallons a day.

But Eastside residents — besieged by gentrification-fueled increases in their property rates and the changing face of their community given bolstered commercial encroachment — see other motivations at play with the city decision. Among those at the spontaneously staged protest was Edward Rendon Sr., for whom a city park — the 500-acre Edward Rendon Sr. Park at Festival Beach — is named.

“Es un abuso de la ciudad,” the 89-year-old said in Spanish, categorizing the decision as an abuse by the city. “I think it’s a lie; all pools leak water. I am very offended by the city,” he said, as his great-granddaughter milled around with her friends. “We wanna swim!” she and the other juvenile protestors began chanting.

Rendon and Delgado’s presence at the protest symbolized the generational continuum of Eastside residency. Delgado’s grandfather, Rendon led efforts to clean the park formerly dubbed Festival Beach in the 1970s when he was the president of the neighborhood association his granddaughter now heads, prompting city leaders to rename it in his honor. That tradition of community activism was also exemplified by Rendon’s daughter, Elisa Rendon — Delgado’s mom — who also was at the protest.

Rendon spoke emotionally about past community fights she led as a young activist — chiefly the closing of the Holly Power Plant whose vestiges still tower over the Metz recreational area. She recalled crying with joy over the closure of the plant which she said had caused illness among residents in its midst given its smoky output. But the planned closure of the Metz pool is not something that brings her any joy.

“I remember swimming here myself when I was 5 years old,” she said of the Metz pool, long a community focal point for generations of Eastsiders. “To see this at my age hurts me deeply,” she said.

Ruben Montoya minced no words about what he believes is behind the decision to close the pool — a decision made with no advance notice to the community a mere month before summer, he and others noted: “They don’t give a damn about us; they’re gonna do what they wanna do. They’re trying to push us out.”

The community backlash appeared to have had an effect, as PARD announced Wednesday that it would reconsider the closure in spite of the leaks. For more on the city's pools, see next week's Summer Fun issue, on newsstands May 14.

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