belmont pool meet

More than 100 people turned out Saturday morning for a public meeting about the Belmont Pool and Aquatic Center project.

A public meeting Saturday about the proposed Belmont Plaza Pool and Aquatic Center drew more than 100 people to talk about general design components, although some argued that the discussion should include the fate of the project as a whole.

Third District City Councilwoman Suzie Price sponsored Saturday’s meeting. Amy Bodek, director of Development Services, told the crowd that the meeting was designed to give the public an update about designs and to take comment about both design and building materials before work moves ahead on the Environmental Impact Report.

Architects Brent Miller and Michael Rotundi provided the presentation of the pool complex, which would be on the site of the now-demolished Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool. The city tore down that building after engineers determined that it was in danger of collapse in case of an earthquake.

“We will probably go silent again for the next few months after this meeting,” Bodek said. “We will be preparing the design during that time. We have to have a design to do the EIR (Environmental Impact Report). We’ll come back sometime this summer with a draft, no earlier than the end of June.

“Then there will be at least four study sessions (before the Planning Commission and City Council) and another community meeting, so there will be plenty more chances to express your opinions. It does require state Coastal Commission too, so that’s a whole new process.”

Last December, the City Council approved a conceptual design for the center that includes indoor and outdoor 50-meter pools, a separate diving well with a 10-meter platform, recreational and teaching pools, a small restaurant and indoor seating for 1,250 spectators. Cost currently is approved at $103.1 million.

After the initial presentation, Price tried to set the parameters for public comment.

“We’re looking for comments about the design and the materials,” she said. “That doesn’t mean that we’re going to design this by committee, but we want your feedback.

“We’ve had some emails, and I want to say that there is a time and place to talk about moving the pool or the programming. You can make comments at City Council meetings, but you should know that the council has already voted for this project at this site. Everyone is welcome to pitch using $103 million of general fund money to build this downtown, you’re welcome to pitch that, but not here.”

Even after that admonition, three people tried to make a case for building elsewhere and leaving the current space vacant as a park. One said she was enjoying the view of the ocean from her home on Termino Avenue, prompting Bodek to reply that there was a dedicated view corridor along Termino.

Susan Miller, an activist living near the pool site, said that the proposed design would put most of the outdoor activity right under a tree where there are nesting shore birds, which are protected by state law.

“The Department of Fish and Wildlife is going to look at this,” she said. “You are breaking the law.”

Bodek said that the EIR would address potential impact on wildlife as well as impact on the surrounding neighborhood. She noted that while the Belmont Plaza site is the preferred alternative, the EIR is obligated to look at alternative sites.

Swimming pool advocate Lucy Johnson said there was a great need for the pool.

“This will be replacing a 46-year-old facility,” Johnson said. “Right now, there are only three public pools in a city of 460,000. Even with the high school pools in the summer, there is great need. This pool is desperately needed.”

Other audience members questioned financing for the project. Since the council approved it last December, oil prices have dropped drastically, erasing projections of a plentiful Tidelands Fund — which was expected to pay for the pool.

Assistant City Manager Tom Modica said the city has about $60 million set aside for the pool project, allowing planning to move ahead. However, Bodek said, no construction contract would be put out to bid until the city had all of the money to pay for it in hand. Modica added that an inflation factor caused by delay had been factored in to the estimated $103 million budget.

After presentations, the audience was split into working groups, with Price talking specifically to those concerned with environmental issues or wanting to move the pool site. She also promised that there would be another community meeting about the pool.

An initial environmental study of the project is on the Development Services website, www.lbds.info, under the environmental reports tab.

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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