pool hearing before planning (copy)

Opponents lined up to testify before the Planning Commission in 2017 about the Belmont Beach and Aquatic Center.

A lawsuit has been filed challenging certification of an Environmental Impact Report for the Belmont Beach and Aquatic Center.

Fulfilling a threat of legal action made at both Planning Commission and City Council meetings, a group calling itself Citizens About Responsible Planning (CARP) filed the suit June 13 in LA County Superior Court. The same group, along with several other opponents, have filed appeals of City Council action to the state Coastal Commission.

CARP principals Ann Cantrell and Joe Weinstein say the group was formed as a watchdog of city planning and permit approvals. Both individuals have opposed multiple development projects in the past. Melinda Cotton, a Belmont Shore resident, with her husband Jeff Miller, also are CARP members and have filed separate appeals at the Coastal Commission.

This lawsuit claims that the EIR did not meet California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirements to look at alternative sites and adequately inform the public of adverse impacts if the project moves forward.

On May 16, the City Council denied appeals and approved the EIR, a local coastal act amendment and conditional use permits for the aquatic center. It is designed as a replacement for the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool, which was torn down in 2013 after being deemed in danger of collapse if an earthquake occurred. The city planned the new complex on the same site because it was a replacement, not new construction.

A facility with two Olympic-sized pools — one indoors and one outdoors — with a separate diving well, a recreational pool, seating for events and more was designed by architect Michael Rotundi. The exterior is a half dome, with the top at 84 feet — 14 feet higher than the Belmont Plaza natatorium. But the architect and city officials argue that there are better views to the ocean because of the building shape and orientation.

Alternative sites in the EIR include the Queen Mary Events Park and the parking lot next to the Long Beach Arena. Those sites were encumbered legally for other uses, city officials said.

Finally, the lawsuit contends that the argument the new complex has to be at Belmont beach because it is being financed by Tidelands Funds is inaccurate because other forms of financing are being considered.

Because the pool site is in the Tidelands, the state Coastal Commission has final approval of both location and design details. During the council meeting, Seventh District Councilman Roberto Uranga said that it is unlikely the commission would accept the complex as designed — and Uranga is a member of the Coastal Commission. He voted no on the EIR approval.

All of the appellants to the City Council from the Planning Commission approvals have filed appeals at the Coastal Commission. They have been joined by others, including the chair and vice chair of the commission (a common practice when commissioners want a closer look at a project).

City officials acknowledged at the council meeting that the Coastal Commission could change the project before approving it, and said they would be working closely with Coastal Commission staff. When informed of the lawsuit, a statement was released through the city attorney's office:

“The EIR for the Belmont Beach and Aquatics Center was a comprehensive review of the environmental impact of the project, and was certified by both the Planning Commission and the City Council," the statement says. "It reviewed three alternative sites, in addition to five alternatives at the preferred location. The city strongly believes the EIR appropriately and accurately studied the environmental impact of the pool. The EIR concluded that the preferred alternative best fit the community’s needs, and addressed any environmental impacts through appropriate mitigation measures.”

In the statement announcing the lawsuit, Weinstein said he was concerned with the process (which has gone on for more than three years) was not transparent enough or detailed enough.

“We support the city’s effort to provide more swimming pools for the public, and even a new competitive swimming venue," he said in the announcement. "But the city didn’t adequately inform the public of all the adverse impacts of building the facility on the beach site, and utterly failed to identify and consider superior sites in other parts of the city.”

CARP is being represented by Doug Carstens, partner in the Chatten-Brown & Carstens LLP firm specializing in environmental and land use law.

There is no date for the first court hearing, or for any action by the Coastal Commission.

Harry Saltzgaver can be reached at hsalt@gazettes.com.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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