Rendering of the Belmont Pool project looking from Ocean Boulevard toward the waterfront. Images courtesy of the City of Long Beach.
It’s been over a year and a half since the Long Beach City Council approved a $103 million budget for the construction of a new Belmont Pool complex and at Tuesday night’s meeting the draft environmental impact report was the subject of a study session held by the council.
The findings of the draft EIR showed no significant impacts from the proposed project that would replace the since demolished Belmont Plaza Pool, which was abruptly closed in 2013 due to seismic deficiencies. A handful of aesthetic and other minor noise and biological issues were addressed in the draft EIR, but nothing that could presumably set the project back from an environmental stance.
Among the impacts listed were the possibility of soil erosion from the construction of the new Belmont Pool complex, possible noise issues from the construction and any subsequent outdoor events hosted at its outdoor pool and the nesting of birds in trees currently bordering the site. Mitigation measures like soundproofed walls and the removal of said trees were named as potential solutions to the issues named in the report.
The project, if approved in its proposed form, would be much larger than the previous Belmont Pool complex, but it would inhabit the same geographic footprint. The new bubble-shaped pool complex would be approximately 125,000 square feet and 18 feet taller than its predecessor but because of the orientation of the building it would actually increase the view of the coastline.
This item was addressed by members of the team that drafted the report and Assistant City Manager Tom Modica who noted the increase in size, but pointed out that the way the new project would be situated, and with its open design, the "viewshed" would be greater to the east while slightly diminished to the west of the structure.
“Even though this is a larger facility than what was there before, the way they’ve situated it onto the site you can see that while the new facility is about 18 feet higher at its apex, you’ve actually got a lot of area that was blocked by the previous building that is no longer blocked by the new facility,” Modica said.
However, while the initial EIR doesn’t seem to contain any major hurdles for the project, funding might. About $60 million has been raised to go toward the project to date leaving the city with just over a $40 million shortfall from the budget that was approved in 2014. Modica pointed out that the cost of the project hinges on when the money is secured, adding that the longer that process takes could lead to the grand total for the completion of the new complex to swell.
“The total cost is really going to be affected by the time the dollars are in hand and also the ultimate design,” Modica said. “Construction cost escalation will increase the total cost, the sooner the funds are available the less amount of cost escalation we will have.”
The funding gap falls primarily on the fact that the price of oil has been reduced by about 50 percent from when the budget was approved. Since then, the worldwide price of crude oil has dropped from above $90 per barrel to about $48.50. The financing of the project comes from the Tidelands Fund, a revenue basket that the city is legally obligated to spend on projects lining the coast.
A rendering of the view from the bike path looking to the east.
The project is slated to include five different pools, including an indoor and outdoor olympic-sized pools, a dive well, teaching pool and an outdoor recreation pool. The indoor portion will be equipped with about 1,200 permanent seats for event hosting and the outside pool will have the capability to have nearly 3,000 temporary seats installed for large-scale events.
Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price, who presides over the district the pool will be located in, said that this new structure will help alleviate the temporary pool currently situated at the old site, one that is at capacity. She added that a re-vamped and re-imagined Belmont Pool could also serve as a source of pride for the large aquatic community that exists in Long Beach as they will finally have a world-class facility to call their own.
“We have a very active aquatics community in Long Beach, and when our students travel to a competition in another city, the aquatics facilities that we travel to are all far superior than what we have here in Long Beach,” Price said. “And that is really disappointing.”
She also addressed persistent questioning from some members of the public who stated the price of the pool was too high by having city staff reference a survey that showed, when broken down to price per square foot, the Long Beach facility would be about middle of the road when compared to similar pool projects. Access to the pool for youths will cost $1 per day nearly year-round with the exception of a 10-month summer program that will be provided for free.
The dissent to the draft EIR, with last night being the final opportunity to weigh in on the preliminary report, was minimal. There were questions about the seating capacity of the indoor part of the egg-shaped dome being large enough to host a major event—a motive that city leaders have been vocal about in regard to attracting major swim meets back to Belmont. Others focused on the mitigation solutions to the issues listed in the report.
The view from inside the egg-shaped dome of the proposed new Belmont Pool complex.
“That’s not how you mitigate, those two things don’t belong together,” said third district resident Anna Chistrensen about the proposal to eliminate trees that birds are nesting in to resolve the issue of birds nesting. “You don’t just destroy the trees in which they nest, that’s not how you solve the problem.”
Alamitos Heights resident Bill Thomas said that his neighborhood has given a unanimous thumbs up to the project, adding that he hopes the city can find the funding soon so the project can commence.
“I can’t find anybody in my 500-home neighborhood that has anything to complain about, they think it’s fantastic and we can’t wait for you to find the other loose change you need to get Suzie [Price] to be able to get this thing started on time,” Thomas said.
The pool still has a long way to go even if the funding was made available immediately. Modica estimated that if the city had the full amount ready to spend today, the earliest the city could break ground on the project would be the fall of 2018. That date will surely get pushed back if the city’s efforts to locate funds to close the deficit gap takes a prolonged amount of time.