Missed Opportunities Leave Long Beach Aquatics Center Out of Long Beach's Control
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(May 18, 2017, 4:04 p.m. updated 5:58 p.m. to reflect Mayor Garcia emailing) -- LBREPORT.com publishes below the text of a mass emailing that Councilwoman Suzie Price's office sent about an hour after the Council's May 16 voted action on the Belmont Beach Aquatics Center. Councilwoman Price also echoed the text on her Facebook page.
[Scroll down for further.]
[Councilwoman Price emailed text] Dear Neighbor,
Tonight at City Council I am proud to say the Belmont Pool, a project I have long been a major advocate for, will be moving on to the next step toward becoming an amazing citywide asset providing swimming opportunities for all Long Beach residents.
This project is a replacement pool that came about as result of concerns over seismic safety of the previous Belmont Pool. These designs were developed through community and stakeholder input around the goals of creating a facility for competitive high school and college swimming as well as a major focusing on recreational swimming and water play for kids and families. Tonight my colleagues on the City Council joined me in approving the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) which moves this project on to the next step where it is evaluated by the Coastal Commission.
From the unique design, to the programming opportunities, to the commitment to making this pool a genuine resource accessible for all Long Beach residents, this project stands to have a fantastic impact on Long Beach. I look forward to seeing this project move forward to the next key step. During the next phase, city staff will work with the California Coastal Commission staff to review the project proposal and to respond to concerns and explore opportunities to modify the project so that it is a project that the Coastal Commission and Council can both support.
Thank you to the residents who came out to speak on this item and I hope you remain engaged in this project as it continues moving forward.
If you have any questions or comments please feel free to contact my City Hall Office at (562)570-6300 or District3 @longbeach.gov.
Councilwoman, Third District
At late afternoon May 18, Maryor Garcia sent a mass emailing, stating as follows:
[Mayor Garcia text] Dear Friend,
On Tuesday night, the City Council voted to move forward with initial plans for the Belmont Pool replacement project. This important step to approve the Environmental Impact Report helps move pool planning documents to the Coastal Commission, the state agency that approves coastal projects.
When we demolished the Belmont Pool due to safety issues and seismic instability, we told residents we’d build a newer, modern facility. I stand behind that decision and am committed to bringing a world class facility that will draw families, swimmers, and youth from across Long Beach. As the Aquatic Capital of America, we have a rich history of aquatic sports and recreation. In fact, we have produced more aquatic Olympic athletes than any other city in the country.
As a youngster, I swam in the pool and like many locals, have great memories with friends and family. The pool is part of our history, and I look forward to once again providing a venue we can be proud of. We look forward to working with the Coastal Commission on a project that meets our local needs and conforms with Coastal Act policies.
As this process moves forward, it's also important to remember this project is being funded out of tidelands funds. These state restricted dollars can't be used for city sidewalks, city police patrols, or other city projects. Tidelands funds can only be used along the coast. We don't have a final cost for the pool, but we are looking at creative ways to finance this important project including seeking federal grants.
As we move forward we are committed to working with you on rebuilding this facility. My thanks to Councilwoman Suzie Price for helping lead the effort on the City Council and our hardworking staff and aquatic community for their advocacy.
Go Long Beach,
Mayor Robert Garcia
The digital communiques from Councilwoman Price and Mayor Garcia didn't mention a few things. They don't tell their recipients that:
Coastal Commission staff told the City in writing on May 11 that it doesn't accept City Hall's linchpin claim that the Aquatics Center is a "replacement" project. CCC staff and project appellants both say it's a "new" project under the Coastal Act. That's a big deal because a "new" project triggers development-restrictive coastal-protective requirements.
CCC staff doesn't accept the City's contentions on the impacts of sea level rise and also questions the City's proposed height for the facility which is roughly double that allowed under LB's Local Coastal Program [standards accepted years ago by the City and approved by the Coastal Commission.]
Councilman Roberto Uranga, who is a Coastal Comm'n voting member, told the Council that the Coastal Commission could and likely would insist on changes to the proposal. He indicated at the hearing that he liked the idea of a project, but not the one advanced by Price's motion which is what caused him to vote against it.
Price's motion to advance the proposal to the Coastal Commission, supported by Mayor Garcia at the hearing, only carried on a shaky 6-2 vote (Uranga and Gonzalez dissenting.) Pearce was absent but stated in writing that if present she would have voted against it, which would have made the vote 6-3. Vice Mayor Rex Richardson voted "yes" only after signaling that when the Aquatics project returns to the Council from whatever the Coastal Comm'n does to it, he'll [our paraphrase] no longer accept using Tidelands funds for projects portrayed as citywide that don't include citywide outreach and provide good value citywide. In our view, that makes the de facto vote nearly 5-4, hardly a ringing Council endorsement even after the Mayor's endorsement.
While showing the public an ambitious architectural design and impressive artist conceptions (cost totaling roughly $4 million Tidelands taxpayer cost to date) promising world class amenities, the fact is these may not happen as represented because they're now not within the City's control as a result of the course pursued by a City Council majority on motion by Price and endorsed by Mayor Garcia.
We wonder if the Aquatics community realizes how they've been politically played in this. Councilwoman Price and Mayor Garcia (both seeking re-election in April 2018) received Aquatics community applause by advancing a project that the two incumbents either know or should know -- especially after the Coastal Commission's May 11, 2017 letter -- almost certainly won't look like what the public has been shown and told to date.
When the likely shrunken result returns to the Council (perhaps after April/June 2018 elections), Price and Garcia can then seek political cover by blaming the result on the Coastal Commission (or on Commissioner Uranga, or both)...in other words, on everyone but themselves.
As we see it, Councilwoman Price and Mayor Garcia have unwisely put the Aquatics Center on an uncontrollable course with the Coastal Commission. They've velcro'd themselves to the outcome. Whatever shrinkage or other consequences follow, they own them.
The truth is, building a world class Aquatics facility away from the coast could have avoided the problematic Coastal Commission "phase" of this project. Yes, it would rely on non-Tidelands funds, but city staff has already indicated it's pursuing state and federal sums. (Memo to Council: don't even think about using General Fund monies.) Such non-Tidelands sums (possibly augmented by private donations) could be used to build a "world class" Aquatics Center away from the coast, avoiding Coastal Commission issues entirely...and would have left decisions on the future of a Long Beach Aquatics Center under Long Beach's control. .
City management's rejection of a potential joint use between the City and an LBCC Aquatics Center (that is just now beginning its design phase) struck us as particularly conclusory and pretextual instead of serious and factual.
And we don't accept city staff's assertion, offered without documentation (and repeated by Price) for the first time at the May 16 hearing that alternate sites would save only 3%-5% of the project cost. Why weren't those figures presented before the hearing? Documentation for those figures presumably could have been made public months ago so the public could test their credibility.
Amnesia File: Two years ago, Councilwoman Price (unwisely in our opinion) sought to silence, instead of welcoming, public discussion of alternative sites at a community meeting she arranged to discuss the facility's proposed designs. See May 2, 2015 LBREPORT.com coverage with VIDEO at this link.
Yes, some decisions about the project were made before Councilwoman Price took office (but while Garcia was in office as a voting Councilmember). But once in office herself in mid-2014, Councilwoman Price chose to continue charting a collision course. There were many missed opportunities that might have avoided an outcome that may now be dictated to us by others -- a state agency or a reviewing Court -- instead of by finding common ground between the LB Aquatics community and LB shoreline protective taxpayers.
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