The $103 million Belmont Pool replacement project is finally taking its first steps forward after a year-long legal battle over rising sea levels, public access and views.
The lawsuit, brought in June 2017 by the Citizens About Responsible Planning, alleged that the city had improperly granted approvals for the project and that city staff did not adequately address rising sea levels in its Environmental Impact Report.
The group urged the city to find another location for the pool that was not so close to the ocean, even though the city looked at other locations and determined they were inadequate. A judge sided with the city in a ruling this week.
“We respectfully disagree,” said Doug Carstens, the attorney for CARP. “We believe that there are better places to build a pool.”
The group and other residents contended that placing the new pool on the the stretch of beach where the former Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool sat before it was demolished in 2014 is a costly mistake. Citing rising sea levels and sand erosion as some of the biggest concerns, Carstens also noted that the area is in a mapped tsunami zone.
But city officials believe the new pool complex has been designed to withstand anything Mother Nature throws at it—at least within the next century.
Studies show that there is a 2 percent chance that in a very large storm in the year 2100 water will reach the building and then recede, Assistant City Manager Tom Modica said. Even in that “extreme scenario,” because the building is elevated, the pool would not be touched by sea water, he said.
Carol Baker, spokeswoman for the county Department of Beaches and Harbors, said any project along the coast must undergo intense study.
“Generally, when there is construction, you have to look at the environment and the vulnerability of the spot at least a couple decades out,” she said.
While awaiting the judge’s decision in the lawsuit, city officials said they took the time to address concerns the Coastal Commission had previously brought up. The state commission, which initially expressed misgivings about the project, must give its approval before construction can start.
One solution the city came up with for the problem of rising sea levels is a sand replenishment program, Modica said. The city will maintain at least 50 feet of sand around the new building using the same technology that keeps the Peninsula safe from wave inundation: tractors full of sand.
Unlike most beaches in California, Long Beach doesn’t lose its beach sand to the ocean; the sand merely migrates from the east to the west end of the beach, and the city uses tractors to haul it back over. To move 165,000 cubic yards of sand back to the Peninsula costs about $550,000 annually, city spokesman Kevin Lee said.
“We have decades of experience in doing that,” Modica said. “We keep homes safe with sand replenishment.”
City staff is still working out the costs for sand replenishment around the pool and will include it in their application to the Coastal Commission in two weeks. The city estimates the area around the pool will only require an average of 10,000 cubic yards to be moved annually, Lee said.
But Carstens and CARP still believe it’s a wasteful project for the location.
“It’s sort of like building a sand castle in the wave line,” Carstens said. “Why would you need to replenish if you built in a place that made more sense?”
Another issue the commission and members of the City Council previously brought up is the concern that only people and families from the more affluent coastal neighborhoods would be able to use the facility.
The city is working on developing specific programs for people from underserved neighborhoods, including providing transport for families from parks around the city.
“This is a regional asset,” Modica said of the pool complex.
And while the new facility will be taller, it will offer its neighbors a fuller view of the ocean than it did before because of the curved shape of the building, rather than a box shape. The 125,000-square-foot facility will provide indoor and outdoor pool components, as well as a diving area.
The city said this week it expects to submit its application to the Coast Commission in the next two weeks. The city anticipates a final decision on the project sometime in 2019.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include the cost of sand replenishment.