Local Activist’s Plea Finally Succeeds

Swim lessons will be offered free to low income families this sumer in the community pool. Photo courtesy of Laguna Beach Community Services Department
Swim lessons will be offered free to low income families this sumer in the community pool. Photo courtesy of Laguna Beach Community Services Department

After years of imploring city and school officials to ensure that all local children learn to swim, 50-year Laguna Beach resident Bruce Hopping got his reward Tuesday when the City Council approved a free pilot program to begin this summer.

While the city’s Community Services Department currently offers summer swimming lessons at a cost of $50 for eight 25-minute sessions, the new program will offer free swim lessons for up to 50 low-income children aged 3 to 13 years during its trial run, the staff report says. In addition to instruction, each participating child will receive a swim backpack, complete with swimsuit, towel, goggles and sunscreen.

Having a strong sense of civic duty, Hopping, 93, regularly attends City Council meetings to request the Council’s action on various matters that he holds dear, such as installing a sculpture at the Brooks Street beach access.

At a City Council meeting last November, he noted that seven years earlier his proposal for a mandatory K-12 learn to swim program was approved by the school board, but that nothing came of it. Neither, at first, did anything come of a subsequent proposal to the city’s recreation committee.

“This is a beach community and I’m urging you to give this serious consideration,” he said in November, not for the first time.

Last month, as Hopping was geared up to take the Council to task for inaction, Council member Toni Iseman interrupted him.

City Manager John Pietig, in deference to the nonagenarian’s hearing deficiencies, left his seat on the dais to bring Hopping a proposal for free swim lessons.

Hopping perused the document and said, “Well, I guess you’ve done that now,” as the crowd in the Council chambers erupted in applause.

For anyone who has heard Hopping patiently and respectfully present his suggestions to the Council meeting after meeting, it was a privilege to witness the moment when his perseverance yielded a concrete result.

“He pushed me, he pushed Toni and he pushed [Deputy City Manager] Ben Siegel,” said Council member Steve Dicterow on Tuesday when the Council formally adopted the pilot swim classes. He called for giving Hopping credit by naming the program after him and the others agreed.

Hopping thanked Iseman and Dicterow for their help. Then, true to form, he suggested modifications to bring the program more in line with his own vision, such as including all school children, not just from low income families, and having them taught by the high school swim team instead of instructors hired by the rec department. “And let’s make this part of a national program,” he added, never one to rest on his laurels. Earlier in the evening he had already shared other ongoing suggestions with the Council, such as displaying sculptures by local artists at the town’s three entry points.

The free swimming lessons will be open to any child who lives within the Laguna Beach Unified School District and who qualifies for the free or reduced lunch program, according to the staff report, which indicates that about 100 elementary school children in the district currently meet the restrictions.

During the trial run this summer, staff will verify the child’s residence within the school district, but will allow parents to “self-certify” as far as income requirements. If it turns out that residents with the ability to pay abuse the program, an income verification process could be added later.


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