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A rendering of a pool on a beachfront.

Swimming in bureaucracy 

I don’t like going to the beach and can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been swimming this year. That’s why I should have taken it as a sign that we were in store for some major aquatics news after I spent nearly every day of my vacation at least taking a dip into the Aegean Sea or the hotel pool. 

It’s been more than 10 years since the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool was permanently closed after the city determined it was seismically unsafe and began seeking a replacement design. 

That process has spanned the entire relationship between my wife and I. One of our first dates included a stop by a public meeting at Rogers Middle School where city officials discussed plans for the pool with residents, two of whom nearly started a fight in the auditorium. 

That was the highlight for her.

But on Tuesday, that saga (of the pool, not my marriage) could come to an end.

The City Council is set to vote on a much less grand version of the pool than was originally envisioned, but paying for what you can afford instead of trying to will an over-budget project into existence appears to be the path forward. 

Gone is the translucent dome and the state-of-the-art guts of a facility that the city hoped could become a magnet for high-profile swim events, like the 2028 Olympics. Also gone are the multiple bodies of water included in a revised pool design that the California Coastal Commission conditionally approved in February 2021

What the council could vote to approve Tuesday night looks much more like a typical municipal pool, but it could still cost upwards of $74 million

How the project took so long to reach the finish line has as much to do with a lack of funding as it does with legal challenges and appeals from residents.

The original domed design faced a lawsuit from residents who said it would block their views of the coastline. The complaint also aptly pointed out that the project’s own environmental documents said that the pool might have accessibility issues in the future due to rising seas.

While that group has pushed for the project to be moved elsewhere, like the Elephant Lot Downtown, the city went back to the drawing board to remove the dome and raise the structure to stave off any future sea-level rise issues. 

This was the design that the Coastal Commission gave the thumbs up to, given that the city could prove that it would make it accessible to everyone in Long Beach. If you’re going to spend over $100 million in public funds on something it should be available to the whole public, right?

Long Beach put together a plan that included shuttles to get youth to the site and was ready to move forward with it. 

However, as all things seem to have gotten more expensive, so did that design. The city said in December that the gap between what it had on hand to build the pool and the estimated cost was about $58 million. 

Complicating that issue is a statewide law that voters could reaffirm in November 2024, which would establish buffers around oil production sites and “sensitive areas” like schools, parks and hospitals. If that law goes into effect, over half of the city’s oil operations‚ which feed into the Tidelands Fund that the city intends to use to pay for the pool, could be affected. 

An early estimate of how much the law could affect the city’s finances was about $122 million over the first five years of implementation of the law. Back to the drawing board again.

The scaled-back design the council will likely approve Tuesday night was revealed to the public this summer with city officials speaking in less aspirational terms and acknowledging that if a pool was ever going to be built, the design before the council is what it would have to look like. 

Who’s ready to go swimming?


Remember the COVID-19 memorial that the City Council approved in December? Well, the council is now looking at another new memorial for those who died from AIDS. Councilmember Cindy Allen is one of three council members asking to consider the idea. If the city is eventually able to come up with the funds to design and construct a memorial, Long Beach would join a long list of cities in the United States and the world that already have similar memorials. Will it be a grove like the memorial in San Francisco or more simplistic like the memorial wall at Los Angeles’ Lincoln Park? Those are some questions that could be answered through the feasibility study that’s being requested.


Did the former lessee of the Queen Mary that is now wrapped up in bankruptcy proceedings actually use the $23 million the city gave it to spruce up the ship? We may never know, but what is certain is that the city is no longer pursuing anything larger than a $200,000 claim from Urban Commons in court. And it doesn’t anticipate it will get even that much. While the city says it can’t prove that Urban Commons misspent the money it was supposed to use on repairing the ship, a city memo also said the group wasn’t “necessarily” absolved of wrongdoing. If anyone out there was hoping that the city might recoup a larger sum of money from Urban Commons in court, you might be disappointed by this news. But that’s nothing a visit to Shaqtoberfest can’t fix.

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.