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Long Beach City Council to consider controversial Belmont pool center among 2028 projects

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Now that it’s been confirmed the Olympics will come to Los Angeles in 2028, Long Beach is slated to pick up a little bit of the excitement over the world’s best known sporting event. However, next week, when the city council discusses what it will take to prepare Long Beach for the Summer Games, the council members will have to relive some painful discussions surrounding one project— the pool complex in Belmont Shore.

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia announced the “8 by 28″ initiative in order to continue serious plans to complete eight projects in time for the Olympic Games in 10 years.
“Long Beach has a proud Olympic history,” Garcia said in a media statement on Jan. 16. “We need to start planning today to ensure our city is ready when visitors from across the world visit our beaches and our sports facilities. We also need to ensure our transit and transportation options are ready for primetime.”

Garcia proposed new construction of the Belmont pool as one of the eight projects, and that decision has encountered staunch opponents who filed suit last year to halt plans to build what’s now known as the Belmont Beach and Aquatic Center. As the Signal Tribune reported last year, the indoor/outdoor pool facility would be located on 5.8 acres in Belmont Shore. The former Olympic-pool complex had been shut down in 2013 and later demolished in 2015.

Most of the projects are located around Long Beach’s shoreline areas, but Garcia has also proposed upgrades to the city’s major transportation hubs. Beyond the Belmont pool, the mayor’s initiative includes the following projects: Belmont/Veterans Pier (rebuild), lifeguard towers (new construction and rebuilding), beach-concession stands (rebuild), a convention-center hotel (new construction), airport improvements and Metro Blue Line improvements.

Citizens About Responsible Planning, also known as CARP, is the community organization behind the lawsuit surrounding the pool complex. Ann Cantrell, who serves as treasurer for the organization, explained that her organization is challenging the City’s environmental-impact report, or EIR, noting that the City had not sufficiently addressed several topics in its report. The 5th-district resident particularly noted that the City proposes to build the aquatic center in an area that is in danger of flooding.

“And our main objection to this,” Cantrell said in a phone interview, “was that this was in the wrong location, that they needed to put it somewhere that was safer and wasn’t going to be affected with sea-level rise.”

The aquatic center enjoyed support from members of the athletic community. However, the project also faced objections by other community members and major parties last summer when a majority of the city council voted last May to approve the recommendation to certify the EIR for the aquatic center and to take other steps to move the project forward.

As the Signal Tribune reported last year, Steve Hudson, the district director tor for the California Coastal Commission, outlined serious concerns about the sea-level rise, noting in a May 11 letter that while the proposed structure described in the EIR would be safe for short-term use, the facility would face major environmental concerns over time.

“Commission staff believes,” Hudson wrote, “that the primary issue raised by this project is that, based on the information contained in the City’s [draft EIR], although the beach is currently wide enough that the structure would likely be safe from wave action in the immediate future, given sea-level rise, the new pool facility is expected to be subject to wave action and shoreline erosion over the structure’s expected life.”

The city manager’s office acknowledged the concern at the time, and a spokesman stressed that the City had considered sea-level rise when it designed the building. Assistant City Manager Tom Modica wrote a letter to Hudson to respond to the commission’s concerns in detail, citing a study prepared by consultants as part of its environmental report.

“Given the uncertainty of the amount of sea-level rise,” Modica said in a letter to Hudson, “these are worse-case projections that have been accommodated into the building’s design. It is important to note that much of the urbanized Southern California shoreline will be vulnerable to coastal erosion and flooding well before the year 2100 high-projection sea-level-rise scenario, and the Wave Uprush Study demonstrates that the project structure will be sufficiently protected, where other beach areas may not.”

Cantrell disputed the City’s conclusion. She cited another study that predicted a sea-level rise of 5.5 feet that would take place by 2060. Cantrell believed that the proposed building would have shorter lifetime expectancy. If the facility is built by 2028, she concluded that the building would last just a few decades.

“And why would you invest $100 million in a building that’s not going to last 40 years?” she asked. “You know, I can’t fathom this.”

The project was budgeted for $103.5 million, according to an estimate in 2014. Cantrell is still willing to hear what will actually be proposed in next week’s council meeting on Feb. 6 to discuss Garcia’s initiative. The 5th-district resident noted that there are other places where the permanent pool complex could be built safely.

Cantrell said that the CARP lawsuit only focuses on the EIR, and she explained that the case will be heard in May. The judge could conclude that the EIR is flawed and require the City to study alternate locations, Cantrell explained. She also noted that the judge could rule in favor of the City, but Long Beach will have to still apply for a local coastal permit with the California Coastal Commission.

The City’s Tidelands Funds were expected to pay for the pool project when it was initially proposed years ago, but those funds are dependent on the price of oil. Last May, Modica noted that the City had set aside $61.5 million for the project.

Specifics surrounding the usefulness of the pool and aquatic center in 2028 have not yet been clearly outlined. In his press announcement, Garcia acknowledged that the Belmont pool itself would be used to “showcase Olympic history,” and the mayor stated that the pool could be expected to be used for “city exhibitions and events.” He did not mention any specific events that would definitively use the aquatic center’s proposed diving area or pool.

The Long Beach mayor only noted that Long Beach had been awarded several events, including water polo, open-water swimming, the triathlon, handball, sailing and BMX racing.

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Long Beach City Council to consider controversial Belmont pool center among 2028 projects