Harbor Lights

Ice skating at lagoon may soon replace swimming
by Harry Munns
Published January 15, 2009

Millions of TV viewers across the country caught a glimpse of Seaside Lagoon on the CBS Evening News the day after Christmas. Reporter Sandra Hughes opens the segment by saying, “In Southern California there has always been more sand than ice, until this year.” She was reporting on Seaside Ice, the ice skating rink that operated in the Lagoon during the months of November, December and January.
It’s entirely possible a reporter could produce the same story a year from now and change the statement slightly to say, “In Seaside Lagoon there has always been more water than ice, until this year.”
Seaside Ice has two more years on its contract to use the Lagoon. We also know the Los Angeles Water Quality Control Board (LAWQCB) has approved a new Time Schedule Order (TSO) that temporarily modifies the existing National Pollutant discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit conditions so that the facility can operate without incurring more fines. The TSO runs out in February 2010, which from the perspective of usage, might as well be September 2009 considering no one swims in the Lagoon after Labor Day.
So if May 2010 rolls around and some sort of arrangement hasn’t been reached with LAWQCB, Seaside Lagoon might remain dry all summer, and possibly longer, much longer. At this moment in time, it would be safe to say that aside from the Seaside Ice contract and the TSO deadline, the future of the Seaside Lagoon is completely and utterly unknown.
The city of Redondo Beach conducted community meetings to solicit input on future use of the Lagoon throughout 2007 and 2008. Aquatic Design Group, Inc. has consolidated available data and presented preliminary concept and design ideas to the City Council, the Harbor Commission and the Recreation and Parks Commission. The final designs or what might turn out to be this month’s version of the final designs, will appear before the council January 20th.
The three refined proposals have two basic elements, a hard bottom, re-circulated, fresh-water pool and a special events/public plaza. The new water feature would take up roughly half the area of the current swimming lagoon. Aquatic Design Group and Recreation and Community Services Director Michael Witzansky have determined the reduced area will adequately serve the demands of summer swimmers based on past usage statistics.
Installing a hard bottom pool will end the practice of circulating seawater through the lagoon and back into the ocean. It should get the LAWQCB off the city’s back, hopefully for good. Reducing the water surface will reduce the area that requires containment behind a fence to comply with safety regulations. It will also increase non-water surface for public use. All three plans include provisions for public access to the non-water, recreation areas when the pool isn’t in use, like the entire fall, winter and most of the spring.
In essence, the South Bay would gain parkland, but not as much parkland as it might have gained. All three plans call for expanding the adjacent parking lot into what’s currently Seaside Lagoon territory. Members of the Harbor Commission felt strongly that the community wouldn’t react well to a proposal to expand a huge parking lot, that’s mostly empty most of the time, into a precious public park located beside the Pacific Ocean.
City officials feel it might be necessary to offer this expanded revenue-generator to Decron, the leaseholder that operates the parking lot, in return for installing a boat ramp on Decron’s leasehold. Budget and Finance Commissioner, Gary Ohst said, “That isn’t necessary. The boat ramp is just an even swap.” In other words, Decron would gain roughly the same amount of space it gives up when it closes down the hoists it uses now for boat launching.
Forget about public outrage for the moment. Could the inclusion of an accommodation for a boat ramp project that hasn’t even been fully researched, approved or funded have any affect on the Lagoon project other than to slow it down?
Cost estimates for the three proposals come in at an average of about $13,000,000. The state of California requires Redondo Beach to set aside money for improvement and development of land and facilities in the Tidelands, which includes the Seaside Lagoon. There won’t be enough money in the Tidelands Fund to cover these costs and even if the Tidelands Fund balance rose to a level that equaled the cost of any one of the three plans, there are a lot of other things that Tidelands money needs to fund.
Director Witzansky’s report to the Harbor Commission states, “Assuming the funds are secured, construction of the new special events venues and aquatics facility could begin as early as spring 2010.”
It’s possible with a plan in place and some positive test data, LAWQCB will grant an extension or a new permit to allow Seaside Lagoon to operate in its current state in the summer of 2010. No one can say for sure. It’s possible the city will operate without a permit and simply pay tens of thousands of dollars in fines, or more, but that’s like parking in a handicap space and considering the fine nothing more than an expensive parking fee. City’s tend to avoid that type of behavior.
In the best case, the council approves a plan, the money miraculously appears, and every state and regional agency that needs to sign off on the proposal gives its approval. If it all happens by spring 2010, don’t expect a complete makeover to take place in three months and don’t expect to swim in the Lagoon.
What does this all mean? Anyone who enjoys swimming in Seaside Lagoon should take full advantage of it this summer. You may not get the opportunity in 2010, 2011…
The CBS Evening News segment ends with a shot of a cute girl on skates wearing a bikini. Let’s hope news stories about skating don’t become the only opportunities people get to wear their bathing suits at Seaside Lagoon.
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