Already angered by what they perceive as price-gouging and a series of actions that will eventually deprive them of one of their favorite recreational pastimes, several Marina del Rey boat owners are crying foul over the recent cancellation of a Small Craft Harbor Commission meeting that they feel would have been one of the few places where their voices could be heard.

The postponement of the September meeting of the Small Craft Harbor Commission, which is responsible for making recommendations to the County Board of Supervisors concerning matters relating to the operation and management of Marina del Rey, angered Jon Nahaas and several of his supporters.

Nahaas, a Marina del Rey resident and boat owner, has emerged as the leader of a group of recreational boaters who believe that current policies that permit county lessees to increase dock slip fees at what he calls an alarming rate run counter to the original intent of the coastal community’s charter.

They believe that this and other actions by Los Angeles County officials, who supervise the operations of the Marina, is further evidence that the county is focused solely on catering to the wishes and demands of a clientele that is wealthier and more desirable.

The boaters contesting the rate hikes had planned to make a series of inquiries and deliver specific requests that they feel are critical to their quest for answers to their financial well-being at the September meeting, and its cancellation only exacerbated existing tensions between county officials and the boaters group.

“We were anticipating a lot of information being released to us,” Nahaas said.

Some of the information they are requesting includes an analysis of the cost and maintenance of the docks over the 40 years of their existence, copies of any notices of default on maintenance of the docks and facilities over the last decade and the return on investment estimations for the lessees of Mariners Bay Company, the Bay Club, Tahiti Marina, Alamar, Pier 44, and Bar Harbor.

Kerry Silverstrom, chief deputy of the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors, told The Argonaut that there was a relatively simple explanation why the September meeting was cancelled.

“We couldn’t achieve a quorum,” Silverstrom explained. “We want to hold the meetings to the extent that we can, but our county counsel advises us not to hold the meetings when we can’t achieve a quorum.”

That explanation has not quelled the frustration and anger among many of the boating tenants, some of whom are increasingly distrustful of the county and its lessees.

“The fact that the commission didn’t have a quorum certainly shouldn’t negate their obligation to furnish the information to the commission or public,” Nahaas said.

Silverstrom said that in the past her department has held meetings without the required number of commissioners and was later advised by county counsel not to hold them without a quorum.

Others appear to be equally perplexed.

“I am appalled that the Small Craft Harbor Commission would suspend meetings at such a critical time in the life of our marina,” wrote William Buchynski, who docks his boat at Mariners Bay, in an e-mail to the Department of Beaches and Harbors.

County officials say that they, too, are unhappy with the cancellations but are mandated by county counsel to suspend hearings when a sufficient number of commissioners are unable to attend the hearings. They say that the trend in the boating world is going toward larger vessels, but they still maintain that there is room for the small boat owner.

Other groups associated with ongoing redevelopment and land use in the Marina are actively backing Nahaas’s band of small vessel owners. They feel that raising the slip fees and newer developments that are building slips primarily for larger boats is part of an attempt to re-create the Marina as a haven for a wealthier clientele, with little or no interest in the needs of small boat owners.

“The slip fee issue is an integral part of the county’s attempt to make Marina del Rey into something that has not been approved by residents of Los Angeles,” says Nancy Marino, a Marina resident who is active with We ARE Marina del Rey, a group of Marina activists who are working to prevent what they call “private exploitation that is disrupting the public’s use of land that is designated for public recreation.”

David Levine, the president of the Marina del Rey Lessees Association, said that he is aware of the complaints of the protesting boat owners, but believes that the rise in rental rates for boats has to be placed in the proper context in order to be understood properly.

“The increases in and of themselves don’t mean anything unless you have the context of prior years,” he said.

According to Silverstrom, many lessees did not raise their rates during the recession years about a decade ago. “They are only beginning to increase them now,” she said.

Nearly 50 small boater owners filled the community room at Burton Chace Park in August to protest not only the substantial raises in the slip rates, but to challenge the methodology that lessees and county officials use to tabulate what they consider to be fair market value. Lessees are permitted to charge slip rental fees based on a survey of anchorages throughout Southern California. A market comparison is then done to determine the rate based on the size of the slip.

Levine said that Marina del Rey is, in some cases, more affordable than other anchorages in Southern California, based on the formula that the county uses to calculate market rate fees.

“Market rates [in Marina del Rey] are commensurate, and in fact, in some cases lower than the competition,” he asserted.

Levine, whose organization will give a presentation on the increases in the rental rates before the commission this month, said that it was imperative that lessees gain a fair return on their investments.

“They are compelled by their leases to charge market rates,” he said.

Various members of the county government have stated publicly that while providing recreational opportunities for its more than ten million residents is important, it must also generate revenue that goes to pay for numerous public services and facilities throughout Los Angeles County.

“The county depends on Marina del Rey to support essential programs throughout Los Angeles,” said Levine. Revenue created in Marina del Rey accounts for more than 50 percent of the county’s general fund, according to Levine.

Nahaas and others believe that the slip rates should be in line with the condition of the docks and facilities of each marina.

“Some of the docks are really decrepit, and yet slip fees have gone up in many of these marinas too,” he said. “It’s just not true that all marinas have the same degree and same quality of amenities.”

In several exchanges with Steve Napolitano, a deputy with County Supervisor Don Knabe’s office, Nahaas expressed frustration over the cancellation of the September meeting, the lack of availability of smaller slips and the condition of many of the Marina’s docks, a point that he raised at the August commission meeting.

Tenants like Buchynski agree with Nahaas on the conditions of the amenities that they pay for as recreational boat owners.

“I am a boat owner who pays $630 dollars a month for a 27-foot sailboat in a marina that seemingly has great difficulty maintaining their bathroom facilities,” he complained. “I can’t even use the bathroom that’s next to my boat.”

Levine also disputes the notion that there are few or no vacancies for smaller boats in the Marina, which several disgruntled boaters contend.

“That’s simply not true,” he stated. At Marina Harbor, for example, the anchorage is required to provide 55 percent of its slips to boats 35 feet and under. Currently, there are four slips available for boats that are 25 feet in length.

On Thursday, October 11th, the Department of Beaches and Harbors will host a special meeting of the Small Craft Commission, where Nahaas, his fellow recreational boaters and other interested parties will have an opportunity to address the commission and obtain the documents and information that they seek.

“There needs to be more transparency in government,” Marina said. “It seems that the county has predetermined what the outcome will be [regarding the slip fee increases].”

The meeting will take place at 6 p.m. in the community room at Burton Chace Park.

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