Concerns about sea level rise and cost escalation have led to a redesign that will put pools and a diving well outside at the site of the Belmont Olympic Plaza Pool.
A new approach would move the pools north by 20 or 30 feet, keep all of the pools outside, including the separate diving well, and keep the current above-ground pool. The cost is expected to be around $80 million.
The original natatorium was deemed unsafe in case of an earthquake in 2013 and demolished in 2014. A new design with inside and outside pools, and an inside diving well, was approved in 2014, with an expected $103 million cost.
But that plan was challenged in court by activists, and was questioned by Coastal Commission staff, for susceptibility to sea level rise and the building’s height.
A judge ruled in July 2018 that the city had met Environmental Quality Act requirements, but city staff continued to struggle to meet concerns from the Coastal Commission.
So last week Assistant City Manager Tom Modica and others met with pool stakeholders with an alternative plan. Modica said Wednesday that those stakeholders agreed that a new approach would allow a facility to be built in a timely manner that still would meet community needs.
It has been five years since the1968-era Belmont Olympic Plaza Pool has been demolished. An above-ground 50-meter pool designed to be temporary was installed in the adjacent parking lot in December 2013 and has hosted water polo and swimming since.
Coastal Commission staff’s biggest concern, Modica said, was the impact of sea level rise — a concern shared by Seventh District City Councilman Roberto Uranga, who also is a Coastal Commissioner. Modeling showed that at projected sea levels, the water would just touch one corner of the building, while the plinth — a raised foundation — would be relied on in case of strong storm surge.
That didn’t appear to satisfy the state. Add the fact that cost factors had escalated to the point the original design would cost $145 million today, and a new approach seemed a good idea.
“We have worked very closely with the Coastal Commission staff and the pool stakeholders to create this design change,” Modica said. “This will result in a lower cost and address the sea level concerns.”
Detailed design has yet to start. The project still would include a competition-grade 50-meter swimming pool, a large recreational pool with public-friendly design elements and a separate dive well including all of the platform and springboard heights required for international-level competition. There would be a building with showers and restrooms, but food service is unlikely, Modica said.
One advantage to the new approach is that it could accommodate Olympic activities in 2028, if the organizers decide to go that direction. There is no indication a change from a Los Angeles venue is contemplated, but the diving facility could be designed to allow temporary stands for competition.
Mayor Robert Garcia has listed the Belmont Pool complex as one of his eight major capital projects to be completed before the Olympics, and Long Beach already is slated to host several events.
The larger issue is a pool complex that will serve the entire community, however, Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price said.
“I am a huge supporter of the pool project and look forward to putting forth a project that is consistent with what the residents, user groups, Coastal Commission and broader Long Beach community can all embrace,” Price said in an email. “I am grateful that city staff has been working diligently on the project and with reviewing entities since the project was approved by the council in 2015.”
In the years after the Belmont Plaza Pool demolition, oil prices were high and the city’s Tidelands Fund was able to set aside $61.5 million over two years. However, almost nothing has been added to the swimming pool fund in the last several years.
That would leave about $20 million left to raise in order to build the new complex — a doable target, city officials said. And, because this is a reduction of an already approved plan, the new design should be able to use current approvals and applications. The new approach even answers most of the concerns stated in the lawsuit filed by Citizens About Responsible Planning (CARP) that the city won last year.
Once detailed engineering begins, it should be about six months before Long Beach is ready to resubmit plans to the Coastal Commission. That could put a construction start in late 2020 or early 2021, assuming funding can be found.