|(February 5, 2021, 6:32 p.m..) -- On February 11, the California Coastal Commission, which is legally required to protect and enhance public access to the coast, is scheduled to vote on whether to let the City of Long Beach build a Belmont Beach and Aquatic Center steps from the sand in the SE corner of Long Beach.
The Belmont Beach Aquatics Center, with 2 Olympic-size pools and a platform diving pool, is currently estimated to cost $82-$85 million and was approved on January 21, 2020 by the Long Beach City Council (8-0, Richardson absent entire meeting) but needs Coastal Commission approval as it is in the coastal zone.. Councilman Uranga (who approved the project at the Council) is a member of the Coastal Commission.
City Hall proposes to tap Tidelands Funds for roughly $60 million of the cost, with the remaining $25 million to come from sources not yet identified. It's a cost reduction from $100+ million (that reached roughly $140 million) for an initially proposed design .
In response sea level rise issues raised by the public and Coastal Commission staff, city management revised the proposed project, moving it a bit north of its initially proposed site, lowered its height by removing its roof and adding a "shade sail" to provide some protection from the summer sun. All bodies of water will now be outdoors; the current "temporary" pool will remain with recreational components added including a vortex pool (circulating water similar to a whirlpool), zip line, cascading waterfalls and splash pads.
Coastal Commission staff is recommending Commission approval of a revised version (deny Local Coastal Permit request as submitted; and certify, only if modified) WITH hurdles on equity grounds that Long Beach City officialdom hasn't previously had to take seriously..
The threshold issue: Why is City Hall proposing an $85 million facility -- that’s supposed to serve residents citywide -- in a corner of SE Long Beach? Although it replaces a former public pool at that location, that doesn't satisfy Coastal Commission staff. .
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[Coastal Commission staff report] The proposed project raises significant environmental justice concerns because of the inequitable distribution of the pool facility’s benefits and limited access for residents of Long Beach," writes Coastal Commission staff. "Throughout California’s history, underserved communities -- including low-income populations, communities of color, and other marginalized populations -- have faced disproportionate social and physical barriers, often caused or exacerbated by discriminatory land used patterns and economic policies, disconnecting them from coastal access and recreational opportunities.
In the case of the proposed project, for example, "the pool is located in the more affluent section of Long Beach, which has a higher "socioeconomic demographic than the rest of the city."
Coastal Commission staff has attached multiple conditions to address long-shrugged Environmental Justice issues. Will the Coastal Commission vote to require Long Beach City Hall to apply them? Will City Hall agree to apply them to get Coastal Commission approval for the pool? .
"Our team has worked very closely with the Coastal Commission staff to address any outstanding issues and are very happy to see their recommendation of approval for the project, City Manager told us in December. "We know that environmental justice is a key priority for the Coastal Commission and have added numerous components to address concerns. We have worked with staff and are supportive of the conditions."
Coastal Commission staff writes:
When considering environmental justice issues related to the proposed facility, the first concern is the location of the project site in a part of coastal Long Beach that is more affluent predominantly white and not easily accessible from other parts of the city.
So, what about an alternative location, like the downtown "Elephant Lot" adjacent to the Convention Center?
"While this site is more easily accessible to residents throughout the region, the city raised environmental justice concerns about the Elephant Lot because it is closer to the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles and could expose more people to poor air quality," Coastal Commission staff reasoned.
While the project could be redesigned as an indoor facility to alleviate that concern, the city also said it was committed to other uses for that site. That area is a popular visitor serving center and the city considered the Elephant Lot for other future developments including a new Angels Stadium and for other short-term projects, such as swimming and BMX Olympic events during the 2028 Olympics
As a result, Coastal Commission staff concluded that the Elephant Lot isn't a feasible alternative for the city under current conditions and recommends that the Coastal Commission approve the following:
To address these [environmental justice] concerns and the insufficiencies in the city’s proposed public access enhancement plan with regard to public participation and project details, Special Condition 3 is imposed to require the city to conduct citywide community outreach that will inform a revised public access program to be submitted to the [Coastal Commission] executive director for review and approval.
Among those opposed to the project at that SE LB shoreline site -- but supportive of pools elsewhere in the City -- is Gordana Kajer. she has urged constructing the pool in a neighborhood that needs a community public pool.
Appeals have been filed raising these issues (as well as sea level rise) by Citizens About Responsible Planning (Ann Cantrell among in its leadership) joined by two commissioners themselves (Bochco and Turnbull-Sanders.) Other appellants include Jeff Miller, Melinda Cotton, Renee Lawler, Susan Miller, El Dorado Audubon Society, Long Beach Area Peace Network, Long Beach Citizens for Fair Development, James Hines, Audrey Mabie, Ashley Waugh, Kerrie Aley, Gladys A. Moreau, Virginia Shontell, Loy Zimmerman and Alan Songer.
City Manager Modica says "This project has gone through many design iterations over the past few years as we work to achieve a balance of the various competing priorities on a project of this magnitude. We’re excited to have this in front of Coastal Commission...and will be providing a full report during the hearing."
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