Swimming pools: the haves and have-nots

Some neighborhoods get more than 1,000 pool permits; others get one

Building a pool in Los Angeles illustration


Since 2013, the neighborhood of Sherman Oaks, in the Valley, received more than 1,000 permits to build new swimming pools. During that same period, the South Los Angeles neighborhood of Florence received just one pool permit. 


The backyard pool is perhaps the ultimate symbol of Southern California living, offering a  refreshing escape from the scorching summer heat. While it is no surprise that wealthier areas install more pools than low-income neighborhoods, the scale of the discrepancy is staggering, according to a Crosstown analysis of Department of Building and Safety data


“We get a lot of calls about pools for the nice areas, but we barely get calls for the areas in the South Los Angeles neighborhoods,” said Steve Melkon, project manager for JMI Construction of Pasadena. 


Neighborhoods known for single-family homes with ample backyard space have racked up an enormous number of pool approvals. From 2013-2019, 952 permits were issued in Encino, 921 were green-lit in Brentwood and 796 were granted for Pacific Palisades. (A permit does not guarantee that the pool was ultimately completed.)


Yet in that same period, there were nine neighborhoods — many low-income and south of the 10 Freeway, like Vermont-Slauson — that were issued a single pool permit. The lone permit issued in Florence went to an employee of the contractor who built the pool.


Who gets a pool and who doesn’t in Los Angeles (2013-2019): 

Neighborhoods with the highest/lowest number of pool permits 





List of where pools are in Los Angeles

List of LA neighborhoods with the fewest swimming pools










Affordability is a key factor in determining who gets a pool. But the haves and have-nots of pools also split along racial lines. Many of the neighborhoods that have seen a minuscule number of pool permits have large Black or Latino populations. 


A wealth and racial divide 

Who has access to a pool — and who doesn’t — is about more than just status. Increasingly, some parts of the city are suffering disproportionately from rising temperatures, leading to health issues and even heat-related deaths. These areas are often home to some of the city’s poorest, and have little in the way of tree cover or structures that provide shade. Last year, Mayor Eric Garcetti declared, “Shade is an equity issue.” He launched a program to plant trees, construct awnings over bus stops and provide other structures that give relief from the heat. 


The typical cost to build a new pool in Los Angeles is between $40,000 and $80,000, according to All American Builders, which specializes in pool construction. Pool size, the type of pool and licensing fees all play a role in the cost. 


Pool permits issued in Los Angeles by year (2013-2019)

chart of pool permits in Los Angeles 2013-219


The greatest form of wealth for working and middle-class families is home equity, but the share of Black households that own their home was essentially unchanged between 1968 and 2018, according to a study released by the Economic Policy Institute. The report goes on to state that homeownership for white households increased 5.2 percentage points, to 71.1 percent during that period. That is about 30 percentage points higher than the ownership rate for Black households.


“Pools are a luxury item, so I’m sure there is also a correlation between the income level and affordability,” said Paul Chilopoulos, chief executive of Allstate Pools


Watts, Historic South-Central and Vermont-Slauson recorded a combined 12 pool permits over the past seven years. These neighborhoods are among the densest in Los Angeles, with an average of 18,000 residents per square mile, according to U.S. census data.  


Getting past DWP 

But it’s not just small lots in dense areas that prevent pool construction. It’s also the prevalence and placement of power lines over small parcels, said Chilopoulos. According to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, no portion of water can be placed under high-voltage power lines.


“People decide they can’t put in a big enough pool, so they don’t want to spend the money. It can be a real bummer for people,” said Chilopoulos.


He added that smaller parcel sizes in dense areas also lead to access issues, particularly if there is less than four feet of space to get to the backyard along the side of a house.


“If I can’t get a tractor in the backyard to dig the pool it’s not cost-effective to dig it by hand,” he said.


Ellen Cheng, the media relations manager for the LADWP, said the department has consistent  requirements for power line clearance for home construction projects across its service area, and the rules are universal throughout the city.


Increasingly, Chilopoulos said homeowners are opting to build accessory dwelling units — often referred to as granny flats — rather than pools, choosing to invest in a project that can produce a revenue stream. According to the city Department of Public Works, state rules that went into effect in 2017 made it easier for people to convert a garage into rentable units or build additional structures on their property. Chilopoulos said that the City of Los Angeles has “removed the handcuffs” when applying for ADUs.

Pool permits issued by neighborhood (2013-2019)

No. of pool permits
Central Alameda 1
Cypress Park 1
Elysian Park 1
Florence 1
Gramercy Park 1
Harvard Park 1
Vermont Knolls 1
Vermont Slauson 1
Griffith Park 2
Lincoln Heights 2
South Park 2
Exposition Park 3
Manchester Square 3
Watts 3
Chinatown 4
Leimert Park 4
Vermont Vista 4
Adams Normandie 6
University Park 7
Harbor City 8
Historic South-Central 8
West Adams 8
Boyle Heights 10
East Hollywood 10
Harvard Heights 10
Jefferson Park 10
Montecito Heights 10
El Sereno 11
Pacoima 14
Arlington Heights 15
Wilmington 15
Arleta 16
Glassell Park 16
Harbor Gateway 16
Panorama City 16
Playa del-Ray 16
Rancho Park 17
Century City 19
Hyde Park 19
Westlake 19
Highland Park 25
Mount Washington 25
Lake View Terrace 28
Mission Hills 30
Playa Vista 30
Conoga Park 31
Koreatown 31
Palms 31
Carthay 33
Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw 35
Atwater Village 37
Sunland 39
Pico Robertson 41
Sawtelle 43
San Pedro 44
Echo Park 47
Larchmont 49
North Hills 54
Reseda 61
Lake Balboa 65
Sun Valley 67
Winnetka 67
Tujunga 70
Del Ray 71
West Los Angeles 71
Shadow Hills 84
Sylmar 84
Eagle Rock 86
Mid City 95
North Hollywood 99
Porter Ranch 105
Van Nuys 111
Downtown 115
Mid Wilshire 139
Toluca Lake 140
Silver Lake 156
Beverlywood 160
Windsor Square 160
Hollywood 175
Westchester 186
Granada Hills 187
Northridge 211
Valley Glen 214
Cheviot Hills 216
Valley Village 226
West Hills 234
Fairfax 258
Venice 264
Hancock Park 226
Los Feliz 270
Westwood 271
Mar Vista 275
Hollywood Hills 292
Chatsworth 327
Beverly Grove 416
Tarzana 465
Bel Air 467
Beverly Crest 515
Woodland Hills 599
Hollywood Hills 789
Studio City 789
Pacific Palisades 796
Brentwood 921
Encino 952
Sherman Oaks 1,010


How we did it: We examined the City of Los Angeles’s publicly available data on reported pool permit applications from Jan. 1, 2013 – Aug. 31, 2020. For neighborhood boundaries, we rely on the borders defined by the Los Angeles Times. Learn more about our data here


In making our calculations, we rely on the data the Department of Building and Safety makes publicly available. On occasion, their department may update past permit applications with new information, or recategorize past permits. Those revised permits do not always automatically become part of the public database.


Want to know how your neighborhood fares? Or simply just interested in our data? Email us at askus@xtown.la.