Early Wednesday morning, the Long Beach City Council voted unanimously to send a revised Belmont Beach Aquatic Center plan to the California Coastal Commission, denying appeals and approving local changes along the way.
The vote took place at nearly 1 a.m. Wednesday; the discussion didn’t begin until about 11:30 p.m. The council had already conducted lengthy discussions on a proposed short-term rentals ordinance and a review of the Compassionate Saves approach at the Long Beach Animal Care Services, along with relations with the spcaLA.
This Belmont Aquatic Center design was approved last month by the Long Beach Planning Commission. The council approved one plan in 2017, but it never made it to the Coastal Commission after staff there said there were fatal flaws, most prominently regarding sea level rise.
The new design puts all water facilities outside, adds more recreation elements and moves the site back more than 100 feet from the shoreline. It also would be significantly cheaper to build — about $85 million compared to almost $145 million for the original design.
“We’re now completely out of the zone of potential sea level rise,” acting city manager Tom Modica told the council. “We’ve also lowered the height significantly… The shade canopy is 49 feet tall. The original building (the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool) was 60 feet tall.”
Modica also said the city had been in consultations with Coastal Commission staff throughout the design process. A letter listing deficiencies — pointed to by opponents as a reason to drop the project — has been answered question by question, Modica said.
Four people had filed appeals of the Planning Commission’s approval — three of whom have appealed at every step of the process with both old and new designs — arguing that a pool on the beach made no sense and that there were impacts with the new design significant enough to require a new Environmental Impact Review.
“For the last six years, the community has enjoyed a passive park with mature trees,” appellant Jeff Miller said. “That’s the proper use for the site. It’s been said this is a replacement for the old pool. It’s not. This is a new project.”
Several other people who had opposed the first design returned with similar objections. Many said the only proper place for an aquatic complex near the water would be the “elephant lot” parking area next to the Long Beach Convention Center.
Modica said alternative sites including the elephant lot had been studied in detail, but the Belmont location was the only site that works. It also is in the Tidelands, which means Tidelands Fund money (restricted to projects within the Tidelands area) could be used.
“While this site was designed specifically with sea level rise in mind, the elephant lot is very susceptible to sea level rise," Modica said. "We would have to build a parking garage if it were there, and there are leasehold issues.”
Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price, who has championed the pool project from the beginning, said the lack of a permanent pool is hurting east Long Beach, and the ability to use Tidelands money made the difference.
“If this were $85 million from the general fund, I probably wouldn’t use it for a pool either,” she said. “But we’re using restricted funds here.”
The city has about $61 million set aside for the pool project. Modica said there are potential funding sources to fill the gap.
Seventh District Councilman Roberto Uranga, who also is a member of the Coastal Commission, said discussions and potential changes are far from over.
“From my point of view, this version is satisfactory,” Uranga said. “However, there will be another tougher, stricter review at the Coastal Commission.”
Although the Coastal Commission meets in Long Beach next month, the aquatic center likely won’t be on the agenda until April or May, Modica said.
Opponents have already said they will appeal the council decision to the Coastal Commission. Approvals also could be fought in court.