Civically Speaking is a weekly newsletter on the latest local government news from the lens of the Long Beach Post’s City Hall reporter, who sits through so many city meetings for us.

Swimming in Uncertainty 

I’ve worked as a reporter in this city for about 11 years now, which means I’ve seen a lot of big projects proposed and either move forward or die on the vine

The nearly $1 billion civic center project, something that still hasn’t been completed if you’re accounting for the massive hole in the ground near City Hall where apartments are supposed to built, was approved in December 2015 and mostly opened in July 2019

That’s warp speed for a municipal project of this size and cost.  

Others, like the recurring proposal to build a gondola to shuttle people over to the Queen Mary, or both times the city has chased the Angels baseball team to relocate to Long Beach, have evaporated without much meaningful discussion. 

Replacing the Belmont Pool has been a saga of its own

The project is not dead, but it’s been moving at a snail’s pace for nine years and its future has been tied to the city’s past as an oil town, something that is rapidly drying up. 

The original Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool was torn down in December 2014 and the city has worked to replace it with a bigger, better structure that could possibly land Olympic events in 2028. 

However, this week the proposed project was scaled back again as the city deals with inflation and the presumptive loss of oil revenue, which is the bulk of what the city intends to pay for the new facility. 

The first concept included a translucent dome with indoor and outdoor swim spaces but was scrapped after legal challenges and appeals in part because of how the dome would affect sightlines to the beach. That project was estimated to cost upward of $145 million.  

A rendering of the first proposed Belmont Pool facility released by the city in 2015.

Then there was the revised version approved by the City Council in January 2020 that was sent to the Coastal Commission in February 2021, which by that time saw the estimated cost grow from $85 million to $130 million. 

A revised version of the pool that was approved by the City Council in 2020.

While the design for that project, which city officials were still optimistic could draw Olympic events, was completed in October, a massive wrench thrown into the city’s financing plans with the passage of Senate Bill 1137, which could ban new oil production within 3,200 feet of sensitive areas like schools, parks and homes. 

I say “could” because the bill was signed into law last year, but whether it actually gets implemented will be up to California voters next year in a referendum vote. If it passes, the city has said it could cost Long Beach as much as $20 million per year because about half of its oil operations are within 3,200 feet of sensitive areas. 

Offshore oil production revenue feeds into the city’s Tidelands Fund, which has been used for decades to pay for public services, beach maintenance and big projects like the proposed pool. 

But that flow of money is expected to stop in 2035, and in the meantime, the city has to stash away about $84 million to pay for oil well abandonment costs. That, combined SB-1137’s potential financial effects, have made it too risky, or impossible to issue bonds to pay for things like the pool, a new Belmont Pier and other large projects eligible for Tidelands funding. 

That’s how we ended up at Tuesday night’s meeting, where a smaller facility was unveiled that was without the number of pools or amenities that previous versions had. The projected price tag of $75 million is about half of the $119 million design that was finalized last year. 

Long Beach has set aside about $65 million for the project. That means that the city could again look into fundraising or naming rights to help close the gap of nearly $9 million. 

That does not include the cost of permanent bleachers or fixing the current temporary pool, which could cost another $15 million. 

That’s a lot of moving parts, but the city said Tuesday that the facility could open by late 2025.

The new design seems to address some major issues that existed with previous designs. It’s farther back on the beach and will not need to sit on a 7-foot plinth to avoid future sea level rise. This new design would only need to be raised up 3 feet. 

It’s also less expensive, and perhaps the city will be able to build this version if it’s not tied up with legal challenges or other delays. The city is looking for feedback (submit it here). 

The Belmont Pool project, though, is an indicator of how the future of Long Beach could look as the pool of oil money begins to dry up.

Budgets for things currently funded by Tidelands dollars will likely be ratcheted down, or even abandoned. 

Reducing the size and scope of this project could be just the first drop in the bucket of tough decisions the city will be making as 2035 approaches. 


Combining the Cultural Heritage Commission and murals always makes for an interesting discussion. In 2021 it approved a mural that was allegedly too sexy for Fourth Street but the  Planning Commission ended up approving a less sexy design to help preserve the character of the historic neighborhood to the south. This week, the commission spent time considering how to protect the murals on the Dolly Varden Hotel’s northern walls from a proposed housing development. The 35-room hotel could be demolished to make way for 141 apartment units, but a vote to allow the historic sign to be temporarily removed to allow for construction has been delayed. A city-hired consultant told the commission Tuesday the building was not historic and city staff said there are no contracts in place requiring the murals to stay. Will the commission finally vote on the sign removal? We could find out at its next meeting that’s scheduled for late July. 


Next week will be a little light on city meetings because of the Fourth of July holiday Tuesday. I’ll take this moment to remind you all that the city has increased fines for people caught using fireworks in Long Beach. With the new fees, it could cost you thousands of dollars to light up a sparkler, fountain or any kind of firework. Here’s a list of where you can see fireworks shows in and around Long Beach next week. Hope you all have a safe weekend celebrating our country. 

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