At its May 16 meeting, after a more than five-hour process, the Long Beach City Council voted 6-2 to deny four appeals and gave the greenlight for the proposed $103 million Belmont Beach and Aquatic Center, leaving only the California Coastal Commission review.
Councilmembers Roberto Uranga and Lena Gonzalez voted against the project. Uranga, also a member of the coastal commission, cited the Coastal Act of 1976, claiming the current project does not meet certain requirements, including maximum height, which he said is 19 feet too tall. He said the project would require an amendment to current regulations.
“That would be precedent setting, not only for Long Beach but in other areas up and down the coast because when you raise it for one you raise it for all. That will probably not be allowed,” Uranga said. “I think the bottom line is that there is a project here. It’s just not this project.”
Uranga noted the coastal commission would likely require changes to the proposed project. Gonzalez said that while she supports building a pool in the city, she does not necessarily think one of this magnitude is needed. Additionally, for a project this size, she said 16 public meetings is simply not enough outreach.
The project’s four appellant groups were given time at the start of the hearing to make their case before the council. Appellant’s included Jeff Miller and Melinda Cotton; Joe Weinstein, Ann Cantrell and Citizens Advocating for Responsible Planning; the Long Beach Area Peace Network and Anna Christensen; and Gordana Kajer.
The appellants’ testimonies mainly focused on the location of the project. They brought up concerns about sea level rise, impact on ocean views, coastal access, parking impacts, and social and racial disparities.
“The Long Beach Area Peace Network opposed the Belmont Beach and Aquatic Center because it fails to provide the social and racial equity that the residents of Long Beach deserve and are entitled to by law,” Christensen said. “To build the Belmont Beach and Aquatic Center in the affluent 3rd District when the six districts with higher population density and more low-income and minority children have no public pools at all not only violates the public trust but also local, state and federal laws.”
Another issue discussed was the $43 million shortfall in funding the project. Currently, the city has $60 million in Tidelands Funds identified for the project but is unclear as to how the remainder will be generated. City staff said they are looking into utilizing federal and state funding, as well as fundraising.
Though all appellants agreed that bringing a pool or multiple pools to the city would be good for the community, they said they simply do not support this project and will continue to fight it. Kajer told the Business Journal that the appellants are exploring a possible lawsuit to challenge the environmental impact report, which would need to be filed within 30 days of the council’s decision.
“I’m surprised that they didn’t pay more attention to the comments made by their sitting coastal commissioner, Roberto Uranga, who voted no,” Kajer said. “He made very strong Coastal Act objections and his comments were disregarded. We’re fighting. We’re moving ahead. They decided to ignore important issues.”
Kajer added that an appeal will also be made to the coastal commission.
During the meeting, 3rd District Councilmember Suzie Price voiced her unwavering support for the project that would be constructed in her district. She explained that she has a great deal of faith in city staff and the expertise that went into the proposed project.
“We are a beautiful city with a big vision. To this region, the pool will represent Long Beach. It will be associated with this city, not a district,” Price said. “People who come here to attend events at the pool won’t care [which council district they are in]. All they will know is that they are in the City of Long Beach and they are in a place that is a world-renowned, icon facility that people will be talking about with a source of pride.”
In a statement after the meeting, Mayor Robert Garcia said that when the previous pool was demolished in 2015 due to safety issues and seismic instability, the city told residents a modern facility would be constructed. Garcia said he still stands by that commitment. He recalled great memories with family and friends swimming in the original pool, which is a part of our history, and said he looks forward to bringing back such a venue.
The 125,500-square-foot pool complex would occupy 5.8 acres of land at the site of the former Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool. The project includes six bodies of water: an indoor 50-meter-by-25-yard pool with movable floor; an indoor, separate diving well with two 1-meter and two 3-meter springboards and 1-, 3-, 5-, 7.5- and 10-meter platforms; an indoor dive spa; an indoor therapy and teaching pool and spa; an outdoor 50-by-25-meter all-deep pool; and an outdoor recreational pool. The plans include 1,250 permanent indoor spectator seats.
In addition to the pool complex, 55,745 square feet of passive park and landscape area would surround the facility, as well as a detached cafe and restroom building. The project would also include improvements to the former Olympic Plaza right-of-way, the removal of the temporary Belmont pool and a reconfiguration of the parking lot.
According to Naoki Schwartz, public information officer for the coastal commission, the commission has not received a review application from the city. She said the item cannot be added to a commission meeting agenda until the application is received.