GINA NATOLI, supervising regional planner for the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning, is leading the visioning process for Marina del Rey.

GINA NATOLI, supervising regional planner for the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning, is leading the visioning process for Marina del Rey.

By Pat Reynolds
When I walk around the grounds of Marina del Rey, I feel like I am walking in the past and that feeling may be closer to reality than it seems. Nearly every place I go and what exists under the steps I take will soon be changed. The rubber is meeting the proverbial road. The Marina del Rey that was built in the early 1960s, MdR 1.0 (if you will), is going forward towards its next incarnation.
And it’s what this next incarnation will be that has some residents and boaters keeping a close eye on the process. Through the years there have been many a heated meeting full of passion and exasperation, but currently the focus has been on an “envisioning” process, where members of the county Department of Regional Planning have taken to the streets in an effort to garner feedback on what’s to come for this unique area.
I recently attended a focus group hosted by Regional Planning at the Marina del Rey Hotel, where mobility was the topic of the evening. On large round tables, small groups of community members guided along by a designated aide, brainstormed (with a bit of kvetching) about what Marina del Rey could do better with and without.
We were asked about where we would like to see things and what we felt about the current layout of the town. Groups were asked about the prospect of a new promenade that will one day weave along the seaside in the future Marina del Rey. As my group barked out what stinks and what would be nice, the aide wrote down bullet points on a big pad propped on an easel.
People pointed to areas with long-term leases that I knew couldn’t be changed, with suggestions that sounded great, while an aide nodded and encouraged.
“Isn’t this a bit moot Jeff?” I asked in response to questions regarding the best areas to place parking lots and structures.
“What do you mean?” he responded.
“How can we know where the best places to situate parking are when we don’t know where anything will ultimately be?”
“This is visioning,” he said, politely and perhaps slightly confused with the question.
A very skeptical middle-aged woman showed up about 15 minutes after our group was underway and wasted no time to scoff at the process. She pointed to parcels on the map with disparaging commentary, striking fear into our innocent envisioning hearts.
“This place was never supposed to be a cash cow for the county!” she exclaimed after she got herself worked up.
The woman didn’t stay for the whole process. She said something about this being all for show and then seemed to disappear.
I, like maybe others, don’t know who is earnest and who is sinister. Perhaps there is no one who is either.
A few days later I spoke to supervising regional planner for the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning, Gina Natoli, who is leading the envisioning effort, and asked her take on some of these things. I told her of my concerns for this “no parameters” approach to opinion providing that her department encourages.
“When we’re talking about the community at large – they’re really aren’t parameters other than – this is our community and what do you want it to look like?” she said. “I’ve always wondered about the notion that you have to have a list of parcels in front of you before you can discuss what you want your community to be.  You don’t need a list of parcels to tell us, ‘you know we need more walkable areas’ or ‘we’d like a place to sit down when we’re on the promenade’ or ‘I can’t ride my bike safely.’”
Natoli is obviously well aware that there are concrete limitations in recreating the space that is Marina del Rey. But her task, she says, is to try and understand what the public and stakeholders have in mind in a general sense and then to make recommendations based on that gathering of information.
“Our job is to listen and propose,” Natoli said. “I’ve been telling my staff for years that it’s our job to ask and someone else’s job to decide.”
To the skeptic at my table who represents a not-so-small number of others with a similar viewpoint, Natoli stressed:
“It’s not for show. We really do want the input – we really do want information. We want to take what we learn and try and incorporate it into the amendments and the changes we’re going to be making to the LCP (Local Coastal Program).”
The Department of Regional Planning will be having a community meeting on the visioning plan at the end of September or early October to discuss with the community what they have accrued. They will bring the final draft to the county Board of Supervisors in September 2014.
Natoli encourages members of the community to contact her and/or her staff with opinions, concerns or suggestions.
For more information, contact Natoli or Kevin Finkel of the Community Studies West Section at (213) 974-6422 or commstudieswest@planning.lacounty.gov. Office hours are Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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