The $85 million Belmont Pool replacement project has received preliminary approval from the Long Beach City Council, setting it up for another hurdle at the California Coastal Commission, which could give it final approval later this year.
The project has been held up by multiple legal challenges and funding shortages, but the city is now confident it has shored up questions the Coastal Commission had late last year.
In a vote that extended from late Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, the council denied a few last-minute appeals and certified amendments to the city’s general plan and zoning plans to allow for the construction of the new pool at the site of the old one.
Opponents of the project challenged the decision to place the structure on the beach where future sea-level rise might limit access. They questioned whether the construction was really a replacement project rather than an entirely new structure.
“This project has been portrayed as a replacement of an old pool; it is not,” said Jeff Miller, one of the opponents. “It is a new project, far greater in size and impacts. It would be a replacement of a natural beach and park containing grass and mature trees, which have been enjoyed by the public for six years now. This is the baseline.”
Interim City Manager Tom Modica said that the project has no new impacts. He noted that even though the new design includes a mast that is 60 feet tall, the shade sail it holds is only 49 feet tall.
The original Belmont Pool building, which was torn down after being deemed unsafe in 2013, stood at 60 feet.
The original plans for a replacement pool involved a translucent dome that would have been 78 feet tall. However, that $145 million design stalled because of the cost, legal challenges and the expectation that it would be in a future flood zone.
“This new design, we have designed it so that the water does not touch the facility,” Modica said while presenting a graphic that showed the new pool outside of the 2100 expected sea-level rise scenario during a 100-year storm. “Essentially we’re completely out of sea-level rise and we believe that will satisfy that requirement.”
The new design released publicly last month showed a less triumphant facade but one that may satisfy some concerns expressed by the Coastal Commission such as the addition of recreation and park space as well as the inclusion of parking plans. The new plan also moved the complex farther up the beach and out of expected high-tide marks.
Moving the project forward will require a second vote by the City Council, likely at its next meeting, which is scheduled for February, where it will vote to send the plans to the Coastal Commission for certification.
The city had originally hoped to have the project before the commission during its February meeting, which will run from the 12th through the 14th and will be hosted at the Bob Foster Civic Chambers at Long Beach City Hall.
However, last month a commission spokesperson said it was unlikely that the Belmont Pool item would be added to the February meeting because of time restraints and because the agenda was already full.
The Coastal Commission meets monthly and rotates among sites on the California coast. Its March meeting will be in Santa Cruz and in April the commission will meet in Oxnard. In May it will meet in an undetermined Orange County location before moving onto Rohnert Park in June and San Diego in July.
It’s not clear yet when the commission could consider the pool project.
Despite changes to the project, city officials are convinced the pool still represents a world-class swimming facility that will double as a public asset. Modica said the pool’s new outdoor alignment could help lure Olympic activities to the facility if it’s constructed in time.
The city anticipates a 2023 construction timeline if the approval process goes forward as expected.
“While there’s no commitment from the 2028 Olympics, they are very interested in having this as a potential to consider, and we will create this to Olympic standards,” Modica said.
The projected cost of the pool is $85 million, which city officials have said could change if the project is held up again for a significant amount of time.
The city currently has only about $61 million in Tidelands Funds budgeted for the construction. It could look to outside fundraising like the Los Angeles Olympics Committee or naming rights opportunities to help close the roughly $24 million gap.
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