New City Council resolutions urge Mayor Harris to not begin $6.1 million reconstruction of Natatorium

In a move to halt the $6.1 million “patch up” renovation of the Natatorium seawalls and pool deck, the Honolulu City Council has introduced two resolutions that would urge the Harris administration to not break ground on this unpopular and unnecessary construction project.

Public Hearing Now Set for Wednesday September 22, 2004

The Honolulu City Council will hear testimony and vote on the resolutions next Wednesday on September 22, 2004. If you can attend the hearing and lend moral support or offer oral testimony, please come to the 3rd floor of Honolulu Hale, City Hall, 530 South King Street by 9:30 AM. Please check back for the time of the hearing. We offer sample testimony that you can use in part or whole in email to City Council members. Give your name, address, and phone number. This will be considered as testimony and it counts in the decision making process. Please participate. Thank you.

In a move to halt the $6.1 million “patch up” renovation of the Natatorium seawalls and pool deck, the Honolulu City Council has introduced two resolutions that would urge the Harris administration to not break ground on this unpopular and unnecessary construction project.

The first resolution (04-255) urges the city to “postpone the encumbrance or expenditure of any monies for construction of the Waikiki War Memorial and Natatorium until the administration completes … final plans for the swimming pool that are in compliance with the State Department of Health rules.” The resolution further requests that Mayor Harris obtain all necessary permits and approvals from the State Department of Health, Department of Land and Natural Resources, and other appropriate state and federal agencies. The resolution requests the Mayor to cease all actions pertaining to construction of this unpopular project until such time as he furnishes the City Council with plans for a new swimming pool, price for its construction, and cost estimates for maintenance of the new complex.

The second resolution (04-256) is a less costly solution to the safety issue being touted by Mayor Harris as the reason for the project. The resolution calls for a fence around the structure, and a security guard to keep the public from trespassing on the Natatorium site.

Resolution 04-255
Requesting the city administration to postpone the encumberance or expenditure of any monies for the construction of the Waikiki War Memorial and Natatorium
(PDF format, 54k)
Resolution 04-256
Urging the city administration to consider less costly measures to address the health and safety concerns regarding the Waikiki War Memorial and Natatorium
(PDF format, 185k)

Harris wants pool restored

Honolulu Advertiser
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Mayor testifies legal delays led him to scale back Natatorium project


Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris testified in state court yesterday that his goal is to restore the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium saltwater pool even though he has ordered work on the pool canceled. Early this month, Harris said he was canceling the part of the contract relating to the pool while moving forward with the renovation of the memorial arch, facade and rest-rooms.

The Kaimana Beach Coalition has gone to Circuit Court seeking an injunction to halt city work on the decaying waterfront structure. Circuit Judge Gary W.B. Chang last week ordered Harris to testify, granting a request by the coalition, which wants the Natatorium arch restored but not the pool.

“Our goal is to build the whole project,” Harris said in court yesterday. “I can’t build the pool portion now because your lawsuit has caused delays that have risen the cost, so we’re going to hold off on any construction of the pool.”

Chang said he expects to hear more from both the city and the coalition today and rule within a week.

Harris testified yesterday that the city is waiting for the Health Department to create rules for saltwater pools and will then attempt to get a permit. “For the pool to be constructed, we’re going to have to get alternative funding,” he said. “That money may come from the City Council, it may also come from a variety of other sources” such as the federal government, nonprofit organizations or veterans groups.

“The pool is the war memorial,” Harris insisted. “We’re not allowed to tear it down,” he said, because the pool is on the state and federal historic registers. “We are canceling that portion of the contract. By canceling that portion of the contract, we are postponing the pool.”

The Natatorium was built in 1927 as a memorial to World War I veterans. It was closed in 1979 after it was determined to be unsafe.

Kaimana Beach Coalition attorney Jim Bickerton asked Harris if he intends to pursue nighttime commercial tourist shows at the Natatorium. Harris said that had been considered and rejected two years ago. “We are not going to propose or approve commercial shows at the Natatorium.”

Harris said he had appointed a committee to help select a nonprofit organization to run and maintain the Natatorium after restoration is complete.
The courtroom atmosphere was tense yesterday while Harris was on the stand. But the mood lightened when Harris asked for a drink of water and Bickerton quickly moved to get him one.

Harris thanked him, and Bickerton quipped: “I didn’t get this from the Natatorium.”

Harris told Bickerton that he had a bad cold and said, “I hope I don’t give it to you.” City Corporation Counsel David Arakawa shot back with a smile: “I do.”

After the mayor testified, both Harris and Bickerton said they believed they had made their points.

Harris said he set the record straight. Coalition members “basically are doing everything they can to make sure that they preserve their own little private beach,” he said. “They’re trying to stop us now from fixing the restrooms and the facade to honor the veterans and provide restroom facilities for the public.

“I think it’s appalling. It’s an outrage,” Harris said.

But Bickerton said he proved that Harris is moving forward with building a pool without knowing if it will ever meet standards as a public swimming pool.
“He has no idea at this point if he can ever build that pool. There are no other public saltwater pools in the United States,” Bickerton said.
Harris said he could not yet estimate the cost of the delays caused by the lawsuit, although he said one estimate he was given was up to $20,000 a month.

Photo caption:
HARRIS: Called the effort to stop restoration of the pool “appalling” and “an outrage”

Photo caption:
Mayor Harris told the court yesterday that the Natatorium’s pool cannot be torn down because it is on state and federal historic registers.

Photo courtesy KITV-4

Harris to testify for Natatorium

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Judge rules mayor must answer questions


Mayor Jeremy Harris will take the stand in state court next week to answer questions about his plans to restore the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium.

Circuit Judge Gary W.B. Chang yesterday ordered Harris to testify, granting a request by the Kaimana Beach Coalition, a group that opposes Harris’ restoration plans. City attorneys had fought the effort to have Harris testify.

However, Chang decided against having City Council members Duke Bainum, John DeSoto, Steve Holmes, Rene Mansho, Andy Mirikitani and Jon Yoshimura subpoenaed to testify.

Kaimana lawyer Jim Bickerton is asking the court to order a halt to all work on the project, even though Harris has announced that the city has scaled back renovation plans. For now, the city wants to renovate the memorial arch, facade and restrooms, but not restore the saltwater pool.

Bickerton argued that Harris’ testimony is necessary to determine what his plans are, because Harris has expressed differing positions.

Bickerton said Harris told reporters he was canceling the pool portion of the project, but then city attorneys filed court papers indicating the city wants to begin the land-based portion of the project and “postpone construction of the pool until new salt water pool regulations are enacted and adequate funding by the City Council can be secured.”

Bickerton noted that the city’s permit for the project calls for a new application if there is a major change in its scope. “Don’t start half a project and build what we are calling a half-a-torium.”

City Corporation Counsel David Arakawa said Harris is traveling in the South Pacific, but intends to testify on Tuesday.

Bickerton also argued that Harris has intended to use the Natatorium project for commercial shows. Arakawa said that two years ago the city ruled out nighttime entertainment at the Natatorium. He said the city eliminated lights for the project because of concerns of nearby residents about commercial use of the property.

Bickerton said the city approached Polynesian Cultural Center officials in 1997 about the idea of staging four shows a week at the waterfront war memorial.

Dave Cole, vice president of marketing for Polynesian Cultural Center, said in an interview that he spoke with city officials in 1997 about the idea of having a Polynesian show at the Natatorium, with an admission charge that would support the restoration. Cole said he rejected the idea.

Councilwoman Donna Mercado Kim testified yesterday that city officials assured the Council that the idea of commercial shows was abandoned.

The Natatorium was built in 1927 as a memorial to veterans of World War I, but the waterfront complex was closed in 1979 as unsafe. Politicians have been debating the fate of the dilapidated monument for decades.

Randall Fujiki, city director of the Department of Design and Construction, testified that the city had determined not to go forward with pool renovations after it was apparent that court delays would drive up construction costs.

The state Health Department is in the process of drawing up regulations for salt-water pools. “We were not going to pursue the water work until we got the pool standards for salt water,” Fujiki said.

Natatorium foes subpoena officials

Honolulu Advertiser

Mayor Jeremy Harris and seven member of ths Honolulu City Council have been subpoenaed by opponents of the Waikiki Natatorium restoration plan.

The Kaimana Beach Coalition also has subpoenaed several city and state department heads to testify at a court hearing beginning Friday. The coalition is seeking an injunction to prevent city officials from proceeding with construction on the natatorium project.

On July 1, Circuit Judge Gail Nakatani issued a restraining order preventing the city from doing any work on the project.

Coalition lawyer Jim Bickerton had argued that city officials don’t have all of the required permits.

Mayor backstrokes on pool

Honolulu Advertiser
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Natatorium plan downscaled to facade, restrooms


Mayor Jeremy Harris and the City Council backed away from the full reconstruction of the saltwater pool at the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium yesterday, and now hope to press forward with restoration of the arch, facade and restrooms.

Harris and Councilmen Duke Bainum and Andy Mirikitani announced that they have agreed to hold off rebuilding the pool. Council Chairman Jon Yoshimura and members John DeSoto and Rene Mansho have announced their opposition to total renovation.

“We will be immediately canceling the swimming pool portion of the Natatorium contract and any of the ocean-water construction activity,” Harris said. “We will move ahead under our shoreline management permit with only the land-based improvements.”

The mayor, Mirikitani and Bainum, who represents Waikiki, said delays caused by opponents’ lawsuits have increased the cost of a total renovation, although they could not provide specifics.

About $10.8 million remains from the $11.5 million appropriated for the project.

Because the Natatorium is on the state and federal historic register, “we’ve been told repeatedly that it’s impossible to demolish the pool,” Harris said.
“Our community needs to move forward,” said Bainum.

He also said that in its present condition, the Natatorium poses a health risk and sullies the memory of the veterans it was meant to honor.
“We think this is a good compromise,” Bainum said.

Councilman Steve Holmes criticized the compromise, stating it failed to resolve what to do with the pool and neighboring beach.

Rick Bernstein of the Kaimana Beach Coalition, a leading opponent of Natatorium restoration, rejected the compromise.

“It doesn’t have a solution for the pool,” Bernstein said. “It doesn’t have a solution for opening it to the ocean here. There are basically no solutions here. This is just a knee-jerk reaction to our lawsuit.”

Harris acknowledged that the compromise does not end the possibility of the pool’s being restored. “It doesn’t end the possibility in the future.” But it does say the city is not going forward now.

Councilman John Henry Felix, a longtime supporter of the renovation, attacked the decision as “abandonment and destruction of a place of sacred remembrance to those who offered up their very lives on the altar of freedom and democracy.”

The Natatorium was built in 1927 as a living memorial to veterans of World War I, but the waterfront structure was shut down in 1979 as unsafe. What to do with the crumbling eyesore has been debated for decades.

Councilman Mufi Hannemann said the new Harris plan doesn’t go far enough. He said the city should submit a new permit as well as begin the process of restoring the beachfront.

“This is just a face-saving measure on his part to take the political pressure off,” Hannemann said.

A court hearing on whether the city can begin renovations has been postponed from today until July 23.

Circuit Judge Gail Nakatani was scheduled to hear the request by the Kaimana Beach Coalition that she extend her construction ban until the city obtains all government approvals. But lawyers for the coalition and the city agreed to reschedule the hearing to give both sides more time to prepare for the case, coalition attorney James Bickerton said yesterday.

Photo caption:
Under the mayor’s new plan for the Natatorium, the memorial arch and wall facing inland will be restored, But the saltwater pool, to right, isn’t part of the plan.
RICHARD AMBO – The Honolulu Advertiser

Photo caption:
HARRIS: To press ahead with limited restorations

Tidal Change

By Chad Blair
Published in the Honolulu Weekly, July 6, 1999

Following a June 21 ruling by Circuit Judge Gail Nakatani defining the Waikiki War Memorial and Natatorium as a swimming pool, the City & County of Honolulu has called a temporary halt to its renovation. Meanwhile, public opinion may be shifting against the ambitious plans of Mayor Jeremy Harris, Friends of the Natatorium and commercial interests.

City residents couldn’t pick up a newspaper, turn on the TV or listen to the radio over the past week without hearing strong support for keeping the Natatorium facade – the arch and wall, that is – in order to honor the World War I veterans the Natatorium was commissioned for over 70 years ago. while tearing down the long-closed saltwater pool and bleachers to replace them with sandy beach (Letters, “Natatorium lawsuit,” HW, 6/9). KHON TV-2, in its June 27 broadcast, called Kaimana Beach Coalition leader Rick Bernstein “The Man Who Fought City Hall And Won.” KCCN 105.1 FM’s Brickwood Galuteria and Frank B. Shaner took calls from the public decrying the public-health threat a renovated pool would likely pose. Even three columnists for The Honolulu Star-Bulletin knocked the project in print, bucking the paper’s editorial support for renovation.

On Wednesday, June 30, Judge Nakatani will consider the Coalition’ s request to halt construction for another 10 days. Further delays could be expected, perhaps lasting many months, as the state Department of Health would have to revise rules for saltwater pools.

“We hope that in the meantime, people will realize that there was once a beach there, and that it can he put back,” says Coalition attorney Jim Bickerton.

Also on Wednesday, City Councilwoman Donna Mercado Kim will present to the Council a petition signed by thousands, asking the Council to rescind the Shoreline Management Area permit it authorized in December. That permit was based on the assumption that the Natatorium pool was not a pool, and thus not subject to Health Department regulations.

Judge blocks work on Natatorium

Honolulu Star-Bulletin
By Gordon Y.K. Pang

The mayor wanted work to proceed even though not all permits are in hand

A 10-day restraining order blocking work at the Waikiki War Memorial and Natatorium was imposed on the city by Circuit Judge Gail Nakatani today.

Work was scheduled to begin this week on Mayor Jeremy Harris’ $11.5 million plan to restore the 70-year-old structure.

City Council members are looking at a new compromise plan that might significantly reduce the scope of the natatorium project.

Attorney Jim Bickerton, representing the Kaimana Beach Coalition, argued that a special management area use permit issued by the Council requires the city to obtain all construction-related permits prior to start of work.

The city still needs a water certification from the state Health Department and a permit for underwater construction from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for two underwater groins.

Nakatani said Harris’ plan to proceed only with the land-based portion of the project “is unlawful in light of the fact that the SMA permit expressly provides that approval of all government agencies must be obtained prior to implementation.”

City attorney Tedson Koja countered that because the outstanding permits pertained to underwater construction, the city could proceed with construction of the facade and bleachers.

Bickerton said the temporary restraining order needs to be in place immediately because work on the project is imminent. Nakatani agreed with Bickerton on that point.

“Restored bleachers looking out into the open ocean for no apparent purpose conjures up a pretty odd and strange vision,” Nakatani said.

The restraining order against the city is good until July 10. On July 9, Nakatani will hear arguments on a preliminary injunction that would halt construction at least until the end of trial.

Nakatani said it is up to the Council to decide if partial construction complies with the permit, not Harris.

Bickerton echoed Nakatani’s comments. The TRO “puts the ball squarely in the City Council’s lap.”

Corporation Counsel David Arakawa, reacting to the decision, called it disappointing and noted that even opponents have no problem with construction of the arch, facade and public restrooms.

As for Nakatani’s opinion that the Council should look into the issue of partial construction, Arakawa said: “The Council has not revoked the permit so it stands. The Council, the majority of the Council is not objecting to restoration of the land-side park features.

At Honolulu Hale yesterday, the Council decided not to discuss a resolution seeking to revoke the special management area use permit for the natatorium.

City Council Chairman Jon Yoshimura said there is no urgency since Harris has promised to put off work on the pool until the Health Department comes up with rules governing saltwater pools.

Yoshimura — long an opponent of full restoration — said late yesterday that he is “trying to find a way to stop the (natatorium) pool from happening.”

Yoshimura added: “We’re working on something. But will it happen? I hope so.”

To date, only three of Yoshimura’s nine Council colleagues — Steve Holmes, Kim and Mufi Hannemann — have opposed full restoration. But that might change.

Councilman Duke Bainum, a key supporter of full restoration, said he’s taking a second look. “It’s clear to me that there are a lot of people who think full restoration of the pool is a mistake,” he said.

“I’m re-evaluating my position in light of the fact that this thing is being drawn out in the court system.”

The longer the project is hung up in the courts, Bainum said, the more likely the project will go over budget.

And Bainum has long stated he won’t support additional funding for full restoration.

New suit filed to halt Natatorium restoration

Honolulu Advertiser
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A group opposing the proposed restoration of the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium returned to court yesterday to challenge Mayor Jeremy Harris’ decision this week to proceed with construction that doesn’t involve the facility’s saltwater pool.

The Kaimana Beach Coalition filed a new lawsuit citing Circuit Judge Gail Nakatani’s decision Monday that the pool is under the Department of Health’s jurisdiction and needs a permit.

The group also contends that the city must first obtain additional permits before beginning work on any phase of the $11 million project.

It asked for a court order halting any construction.

After the judge’s ruling, Harris announced that construction work on the facade, bleachers and restrooms would begin. He said he would wait for the Health Department’s new rules for saltwater pools before deciding if the swimming area would be restored.

But coalition attorney James Bickerton yesterday questioned why the city would want to proceed before obtaining the permits. “Why do we need bleachers if we don’t have a pool?” he said.

“We believe the bleachers are what Mayor Harris really wants because they will pave the way for the commercial use for the Natatorium, which is his long-term goal,” he said.

The construction was to begin this month.

Harris was not available for comment yesterday, but city Corporation Counsel David Arakawa said his office will oppose the coalition’s request.

Arakawa said the administration is “really puzzled” by the latest challenge because the coalition itself never opposed the restoration of the arch or restrooms, which would be open to the public in the surrounding areas, including Kaimana Beach.

“It’s pretty apparent they just don’t want the Natatorium restored,” he said.

Arakawa said he’s never heard the mayor say that his long-term goal is to commercialize the facility. “To me, it’s getting a little tiring that every time we make a reasonable move, they come up with a new motive,” he said.

The Natatorium was built in 1927 as a memorial to World War I veterans but shut down in 1979 for safety reasons. The city Council last year approved by a 6-3 vote a special management permit paving the way for the project.

The coalition has said it favors the restoration of the arch and bathrooms, but wants the bleachers and ocean wall eliminated to make way for a one-acre beach.

Ruling jeopardizes Natatorium plans

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A state judge delivered a potentially crippling blow yesterday to the city’s plan to renovate the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium by declaring that the facility falls under regulations governing swimming pools and must obtain a state permit.

City and state lawyers had argued that the regulations covering freshwater pools were never intended to cover the Natatorium, which is designed to allow ocean water to flow through its pool.

But Circuit Judge Gail Nakatani ruled that the facility will be a public swimming pool and falls under the regulations governing pool health and safety.

“The Department of Health should and must be the designated watch guard over the health and safety of pools in this state for all of our protection,” the judge said.

The decision is the latest snarl in the long-standing controversy over whether the city should spend $10.8 million to renovate the shoreline facility. But it won’t be the final word.

Mayor Jeremy Harris and city lawyers said they would appeal the decision. They said construction will begin this month as scheduled on nonpool renovations, such as restoring bleachers and the memorial arch and installing restrooms.
Harris called the decision “ludicrous.” “It makes no sense,” he said. “We’ll have to chlorinate the whole ocean.”

But James Bickerton, lawyer for the Kaimana Beach Coalition, which filed the lawsuit challenging the renovations, said he would ask for a court order to halt renovation work.

He said the city obtained a shoreline permit that says the renovations comply with all state regulations. Until they get the pool permit, the city won’t be able to work on any part of the project, he said.

“We’re really hoping the city will see the light and turn it into a beach.”
The Natatorium was built in 1927 as a memorial to World War I veterans, but was closed in 1979 for safety reasons. In a 6-3 vote, the City Council last year approved the plans to renovate it.

The Kaimana Beach Coalition believes the money can be better spent by restoring the memorial arch, but eliminating the bleachers and the makai wall. Bickerton said the plan would create another 100 yards of beach in Waikiki that would be worth about $50 million.

All sides agreed that the Natatorium wouldn’t be able to meet the requirements for a pool permit. Those include a limit to the level of staph bacteria and water clear enough so that an 8-inch black disc at the bottom of the pool is visible from the surface. The requirement for water clarity is so lifeguards could see a swimmer under the water.

But the city proceeded without a pool permit by relying on an opinion from the attorney general’s office last year that the Natatorium doesn’t fall under state pool regulations.

City Corporation Counsel David Arakawa said the city will work with the Department of Health in developing new rules for a salt-water facility. He said he believes the city will be able to obtain a permit.

The renovations were scheduled to be completed within 16 months, city officials said. But it may take a year to come up with new rules for the city to obtain a permit.

Health Department director Bruce Anderson said he’ll appoint an advisory committee of water-quality experts to recommend rules governing salt-water facilities. The new rules would have to go through public hearings, and it could take six months to a year before they are adopted, he said.

Anderson had maintained that the Natatorium fell under the pool regulations, but deferred to the attorney general’s opinion.

“We’re pleased the judge has recognized the need to protect the health and safety of the public in this decision,” he said. “It’s unfortunate we don’t have rules in place today that govern the quality of water in a salt-water pool.”

Nancy Bannick, vice president of the Friends of the Natatorium, said she was disappointed by the judge’s ruling. The nonprofit Friends group was formed in 1986 to preserve and restore the Natatorium.

“I’m convinced that it’s going to be perfectly safe. People swam there for years even when it was in bad shape and didn’t have good water quality, and most people didn’t get hurt by it at all,” Bannick said.

Photo caption:
Above: Construction is scheduled to start this month at the Natatorium, including restoration of the bleachers.

Photo caption:
Below: The Natatorium was built in 1927 in honor of World War l veterans. It was closed in 1979 for safety reasons, and last year the City Council voted to reopen it.


Judge to decide Natatorium’s fate

Honolulu Star-Bulletin
By Gordon Y.K. Pang

Defining it as a pool may jeopardize the restoration due to health standards

Star-Bulletin file photo
The city doesn’t want the Waikiki War Memorial and
Natatorium declared a pool since health officials say it
might have to be closed to swimming because it is
doubtful it meets pool health standards.

Is it a pool or isn’t it?

The fate of the city’s $11.5 million restoration of the Waikiki War Memorial and Natatorium may rest on Circuit Judge Gail Nakatani’s response to the question.

Nakatani said she will rule Monday.

The city doesn’t want it declared a pool since health officials say it might be closed to swimming because it is doubtful it meets pool standards.

The Kaimana Beach Coalition doesn’t want the natatorium open, citing health questions, cost and possible ruin of neighboring Kaimana Beach.

James Bickerton, attorney for the coalition, argued yesterday that the facility is clearly a swimming pool.

“It has clearly defined boundaries,” he said, noting that the natatorium is separated from the ocean on three sides by a 10-foot thick wall.

Bickerton added that a saltwater pool at a Kona resort, fed by the open ocean, has followed state regulations since the 1970s.

Deputy City Corporation Counsel Tedson Koja argued that the natatorium is similar to other partially enclosed facilities such as Magic Island, the Wall in Waikiki and Ko Olina.

None of those fall under pool regulations, Koja said. Those rules, he said, “were never intended to apply to a swimming venue such as the Natatorium.”

Koja added, “The water quality inside of the Natatorium will be the same quality as the water outside.”

Bickerton countered that Koja’s comparisons were improper. “Nobody operates and maintains Magic Island; nobody goes in there to scrub the rocks.”

Nakatani questioned how Koja could make that comparison when the city intends to implement restrictions recommended by paid consultant Roger Fujioka.

Those recommendations, made public on Monday, included barring people under 4 and those with liver diseases, AIDS or skin infections from entering the pool.

But Corporation Counsel David Arakawa said after yesterday’s hearings that the city never intended to incorporate all of Fujioka’s recommendations — despite reports that led to cries of discrimination from the ACLU.

People with open sores and wounds likely won’t be allowed, Arakawa said, but other restrictions have not been finalized.

“We’re not going to discriminate against people,” Deputy Corporation Counsel Gary Takeuchi said.

The city will sit down with the state Health Department and Fujioka to discuss which of the recommendations will be implemented, Takeuchi said.

Health Director Bruce Anderson said his agency has no grounds to regulate the natatorium if Nakatani rules it is not a swimming pool.

For instance, he said, it would be impractical, if not impossible, for the city to apply chlorine to the salt water. If Nakatani rules that it is a pool, however, the department will come up with new requirements involving saltwater pools.