More than seven years since the closure of the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool, the crown jewel of the Long Beach sports world is getting a worthy replacement. Last week the California Coastal Commission issued what should be the final “yes” vote to construct the new Belmont Pool, after years of red tape, lawsuits, rallies to speak at council meetings, and votes in favor of various incarnations of the pool.
I’m excited on every level of my existence. As a father, I’m glad my kids will get the same chance I did to grow up swimming in a world-class pool. While they’ve missed the chance to have that for the last seven years, it’s nice knowing it will be there for them in the future.
As a sportswriter who sees the great things that sports can do for kids every day, I’m excited that all kids in Long Beach will get the chance to have Olympics dreams and to feel like they’re not “less than” kids in Orange County or affluent beach towns who have nicer facilities than ours. Every time Long Beach improves sports facilities I see the immediate benefit to families across town. The week they finished the upgrades at Chittick Park, for example, the concrete stands were packed and they’ve remain packed ever since.
As the high schools across the city have upgraded their facilities, I’ve heard from kids and coaches everywhere about how much it means to them to have the same access to quality stadiums that other communities have.
The Belmont is no different. Water polo players and swim teams from all of our high schools are going to once again have the chance to compete in a facility worthy of our city’s incredible aquatic history, to see that tradition in person as a benefit to them rather than just as a story they hear told about other people.
Because the pool has been a topic of discussion for seven years, there’s about seven million ways it’s been discussed. As we move forward and can start being excited about its construction, most of that conversation is irrelevant in my opinion. I do think there are a few things worth saying about equity and environmentalism, which have dominated the conversation since the most recent pool project was approved by the city council.
First, I want to acknowledge that as a journalist who’s concerned with fighting racism and promoting equity–there’s just absolutely zero question to me that language around equity and access has been hijacked at times by bad-faith actors who are simply trying to shut down development in their neighborhoods. It’s the same around environmental language, where laws that were designed to preserve California’s natural resources are used in court to tie up public-good developments over technicalities and minutia.
Commission chair Steve Padilla acknowledged this trend during the meeting where the pool was approved.
“I’ll put this as delicately as I can,” Padilla said, “but there’s also a long history of advocates coming from communities of privilege. And they go to communities of color and say we can’t do this project or that… This is a citywide asset.”
I want to underline here that the fact that some people use these arguments in bad faith does not mean the arguments themselves aren’t based in real issues. I absolutely understand the concern around spending $60 million-plus of city money to build a new pool in one of our wealthiest neighborhoods. I plan on making sure the city follows through on its plans to set up shuttle routes and other ways to make it easy for kids who don’t live in Belmont Shore to access the pool, and I’ll make sure the public knows to hold them accountable if those promises turn out to be empty.
But I was a kid who didn’t have much money and who didn’t live in Belmont Shore whose only experience with our coastline and with that neighborhood came because of the Belmont Plaza Pool. It was meaningful to me to get to grow up swimming in a historic, world-class facility in a part of town I didn’t know or have other reason to visit.
A former student of my wife’s who is a North LB native and a Jordan alum is a lifeguard at the pool, and got the job after having swum in meets there. I’ve covered water polo games and league swim meets there with kids from all over the city, and their appreciation is always palpable. When I read some of the comments over the last year from affluent residents saying they didn’t want the pool built in their backyard for “equity” reasons, what I read those comments as meaning was “Don’t let those kids into my neighborhood.”
Now we’ve got some certainty. We’re getting a beautiful new world-class pool complex to replace our beautiful old world-class pool complex. The responsibility will fall to all of us to make sure that this is a win for all of Long Beach. I believe it is, and I look forward to seeing dreams become reality in our city.