Our city has a chance to do something that would improve lives and make things better for people in North Long Beach. A year ago, councilman Rex Richardson pointed out (correctly) that his Northside constituents had less access to public pools than people in other parts of the city. The Westside has a public pool at Silverado Park, the Eastside (or ‘Central Long Beach’ in official-speak) has a public pool at MLK Park, and the Belmont Shore/East Long Beach communities have access to the temporary pool at Belmont Plaza, soon to be replaced with a world-class $85 million replacement of the historic Belmont Olympic Pool.
In July 2021, councilman Richardson asked Park, Recreation and Marine Department staff to study what it would take to build a pool in North Long Beach. A year later PRM director Brent Dennis delivered a memo to city manager Tom Modica. The memo (which you can read here) identifies Ramona Park as the best site for a public pool on the Northside, and said it will cost between $6.5 and $10 million.
To me, this is a no-brainer. This project would give North Long Beach residents a 25-yard recreational outdoor pool, one they could use year-round. Currently the best options for pool use on the Northside are the YMCA pool or the Jordan High pool, which is accessible to the public during the summer months. The project would also give Long Beach a fourth public pool–not an unreasonable number given that there are a half million people in the city, many of whom can’t afford private or club pools.
With such a proud aquatic history in the city, it’s a no-brainer to build a fourth pool, and in a community that’s so in need of additional resources. Something that’s frequently left out of the conversation around sports and parks is the skyrocketing cost of playing youth sports compared to even a decade or two ago. Even playing in a no-frills parks league can cost hundreds of dollars due to the rising insurance and equipment costs.
A pool, like a park, is an open space with very little barrier to entry. As temperatures continue to rise, more publicly-accessible aquatic facilities are a win-win for the city.
I also think the we need to put our money where our elected officials’ mouths are regarding equity. There isn’t currently a funding source for the pool’s price tag–residents on the Westside or Northside frequently hear that proposed projects in their neighborhood don’t yet have a funding source. But there also wasn’t a funding source when city officials recently wanted to build a new Civic Center, and they figured out a creative and efficient public/private partnership model to fund the new $533 million Civic Center, which includes a new $139 million City Hall.
My family has enjoyed the upgraded Billie Jean King Library and Lincoln Park ($63 million total), and I know that city employees are happy to be out of the aging and seismically-unsound old City Hall. They’re facilities we should be proud of as a city.
But when Admiral Kidd Park’s playground on the Westside was burned down last July, the city said it didn’t have the money to replace the equipment. The non-profit Partners of Parks Long Beach fundraised the money to buy a new playground for Westside kids, relying on large donations from outside sources including the Marathon Petroleum Foundation and Amazon. The fundraising process took nine months and the new equipment was purchased in April, but while the city has since said it will help pay for installation, it’s a year after the structure burned down and there still hasn’t been a date announced for the playground’s re-opening.
Meanwhile Partners of Parks LB Executive Director Trinka Roswell told the Signal Hill Tribune, “As soon as the playground burned down, kids stopped coming to the Be Safe Program. The teens just stopped showing up because there was no place for them to be. It was sort of depressing.”
If we can decide as a city that funding a half-billion dollar Civic Center project is within our creative ability, then surely replacing a playground on the Westside is as well, and surely a $10 million pool for North Long Beach is, too.
Budgets, like everything in life, are a matter of priority. You find money for the things you feel like you have to find money for. I think we need to find money to give North Long Beach its own pool, and as the city’s feasibility study and budget discussions around the pool begin, I hope that they’ll agree. Whether you call it equity, justice, or fairness–it’s the right thing to do.