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(May 3, 2015) -- Roughly 100 people attended a Saturday (May 2, 9 a.m.-noon) public meeting at the SeaPort Marina Hotel, organized by city staff and Councilwoman Suzie Price's office to receive public input on the conceptual design of the Belmont Plaza Pool rebuild project. A City Hall email invited attendees to "Review...City Council approved programmatic requirements; Updated site and facility layout plans; Overview of the design philosophy, guiding principles and project constraints and opportunities; Review of architecture of similar facilities; Public Input on design strategies; and anticipated schedule for the draft environmental impact report, and future public meetings."
Prior to inviting Q & A and comments, Councilwoman Price tried to discourage public comments on whether to build the new pool in a location other than Belmont Plaza (where seismic issues doomed the previous pool.) Councilwoman Price told attending taxpayers/residents that the Council had already made its decision...and if members of the public wish to be heard on that issue, they should use the three-minute period for public comments to the City Council on non-agendized matters.
Shrugging the admonition (and one speaker pointedly objecting to it), a number of taxpayers/residents spoke on why they believe the pool would be better located downtown. Counciilwoman Price didn't try to silence them, but gave no indication she would support their position.
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|After hearing the public comments, Councilwoman Price told the audience that she would schedule a separate meeting to "discuss" the location issue...and told LBREPORT.com in a subsequent email, "If any residents require a further meeting to discuss such alternatives, I will certainly host a meeting in my field office to allow folks to have an unlimited period of time to discuss it."
At the conclusion of the May 2 meeting, Councilwoman Price also held an impromptu "break-out" session in which she invited and listened to attendees' comments on the location issue and fielded questions one-on-one.
A number of those favoring a downtown location attended the May 2 meeting at the urging of Susan Miller, who has lived across from the Belmont Olympic Pool since 1993 and was a member of the City Hall designated Belmont Pool Advisory Committee. Ms. Miller has cited maintaining the ocean view at "Belmont Plaza Park" as well as protecting nesting birds, along with the benefits of building the facility downtown "as an anchor with the Queen Mary, Aquarium, hotels, restaurants, public transportation, freeways etc," saying "none of those attributes are available with the Belmont Shore residential location."
To view VIDEO highlights of salient portions of the May 2, 2015 public meeting, click here.
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Our quick summary follows:
Following an introduction by City Hall's Director of Development Services, Amy Bodek (in which indicated that in terms of location, the Council had decided that "this is it"), City Hall's hired architects delivered a Power Point presentation in which they displayed various types of aquatic center designs, showing photos from Beijing, Munich and various domestic locations. [LBREPORT.com will obtain the Power Point slides and add them here in the coming days.]
Prior to inviting Q & A, Councilwoman Price told the audience that she wanted the meeting to be "productive" with public comments on architectural and design-related issues (since the architects were present and being paid.) Councilwoman Price also acknowledged receiving a number of emails and communiques questioning or objecting to the current planned Belmont Plaza area location...and told the audience that those who disagreed with the location are free to come to the City Council and express their views in three minutes of public comments per speaker on non-agendized issues. Some in the audience indicated verbally that they intend to do so; some could be seen nodding their heads in approval; others could be seen quietly shaking their heads in disapproval.
Roughly half of public comments ultimately dealt with design/architectural issues. A lttle less than half -- while supportive of building a new world class pool -- objected to locating it in the Belmont Plaza area. Several speakers said they enjoyed having new "park" open space at the Belmont Plaza site. Others cited protecting wildlife and nesting bird habitat...and several speakers cited cost concerns.
The proposed rebuild -- at this point called a "program" because it isn't formally a proposed project until City Hall releases a draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR); Ms. Bodek indicated the draft EIR is expected sometime in late June or shortly thereafter, circulating during for public responses over the summer. The current Council approved "program" [new pool and its various features] now being discussed was approved by the City Council in October 2014 following a lengthy series of meetings with a stakeholder committee and city staff.
To LBREPORT.com's knowledge, the decisionmaking City Council was never presented, and never requested, serious consideration of alternative sites for the pool, including possibly downtown (which some say could bring cost savings and possible synergies and benefits near hotels and other downtown attractions.) LB's south shore downtown area is within the Tidelands, enabling Tidelands funding for the project's construction (similar to the Belmont Plaza area.) State of CA geologic maps indicate both areas are considered areas of potential liquefaction (although a federal FEMA HAZUS map indicates Port hardened landfill may be more stable.).
City staff provided the Council with a very detailed October 2014 agendizing memo in seeking Council approval of the new pool's elements...but only discussed the Belmont Plaza location. (Staff's full memo text at this link. No Councilmember(s) [including LB's downtown Council reps] seriously pursued alternatives at that time...and city officials apparently assumed that the pool ought to be rebuilt where the previous pool had been.
However comments at the May 2 meeting, and visible in social network dispatches online, indicate that assumption is no longer self-evident. Ms. Bodek indicated at the May 2 meeting that alternatives would be considered within the "EIR process," which is not the same as a Council discussion of pros and cons of downtown locations prior to directing the City to issue a draft EIR that examines one particular project location [and can easily dismiss "alternatives."] Under the EIR process, once a project (including its location) is described, City Halls can usually find ways to meet the legal standard required to reject draft EIR alternatives.
At least one likely 2nd district (downtown) Council candidate, Eric Gray, recently indicated on Facebook that he's open to considering whether it makes more sense on the merits to rebuild the pool downtown. "Why not build the Olympic-size pool in downtown Long Beach on one-third of the parking lot off Shoreline Drive(in the lost southeast of the Long Beach Arena at the foot of Linden and Atlantic avenues)? The area is more accessible to public transportation, is near our aquarium and hotels and can accommodate tourists. It would also generate more economic activity for the City of Long Beach." Mr. Gray wrote...while stopping short of endorsing the idea without knowing more (especially on seismic issues.)
Consideration of alternative sites for the Belmont Plaza pool has also been invited by the decline in the price of oil, which have thrown Tidelands revenue and available funding into some question. City staff acknowledges that there's currently not enough Tidelands funding available to start the project's construction. Instead, the City has built a temporary outdoor pool that's now operating near the Belmont Plaza pool site. It's received a number of plaudits from pool users, with mixed reviews from some neighbors.
City Hall's October 2014 agendizing memo estimated the new pool would cost roughly $103 million and included a staff estimated $1.3 million cost escalator for redesigns. [If one accepts city staff's escalator cost figure, it's reasonable to infer that further delays for redesign could cost roughly $400,000 a month.]
A decision on whether the City should locate the pool in downtown's Tidelands could be made by a City Council majority [if agendized by at least one Councilmember] at any Council meeting. As with any Council voted decision, passage is subject to a Mayoral veto that six Councilmembers can override.
Rebuilding the pool near the Queen Mary might invite synergies, or create hurdles, for the stated desire of a developer-operator to rebuild LB's iconic Cyclone Racer roller coaster not far from its original crowd-drawing location. (The developer/operator has indicated he prefers an area near the Queensway Bay "lighthouse"..but LB Coastal Commission staff has told LBREPORT.com that a Queen Mary location would raise far fewer regulartory hurdles.) Using any part of the 2.2 acres on Queen Mary leasehold would require a sublease between City Hall's current lessee STQ/Garrison Investments (whose underlying lease with the City runs to 2061). The Cyclone Racer rebuild has generally produced positive responses at public meetings and in social networking comments.
The City Council (with now-exited Councilwoman Schipske dissenting) has instead expended several million dollars to date to pursue a rebuild of LB's Civic Center (without having first sought bids on a City Hall seismic retrofit.) A number of sources estimated that a retrofit could be accomplished for a fraction of the cost estimated by city management, but the Council invited no independent testimony on cost, accepting cost figures estimated by city management [which favored a Civic Center rebuild transaction favored by the current and immediate past Mayor and LB's two downtown Councilmembers.]
The Civic Center transaction, structured as a public-private partnership, will require the City to pay a private developer/operator increasing annual rent sums (annual CPI inflator), shrink the size of LB's current Main Library...and give the developer the land underneath the prime-located LB's former courthouse for private development (NE corner Ocean/Magnolia.) The public-private-partnership transaction, which avoids a vote of the people on the Civic Center project, was supported by downtown interests and nearby neighborhood groups but drew mainly negative grassroots public testimony at Council meetings prior to the Council's unanimous December 2014 approval vote.
The Civic Center transaction is enabled in part by financial participation by the Port of Long Beach, presumably using tidelands revenue to locate its new Port HQ within in the new Civic Center.
Developing...with further to follow on LBREPORT.com.
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