By Helga Gendell
Part III of the history of Marina del Rey covers actions taken after Los Angeles County supervisors requested that the Regional Planning Commission conduct a study to determine the economic feasibility of a recreational harbor.
All of the following historical information is cited from “The Urban Marina: Managing and Developing Marina del Rey,” by Marsha V. Rood and Robert Warren of the Center for Urban Affairs Sea Grant Program and published by USC.
A letter from Robert T. Stevens, secretary of the Department of the Army to the speaker of the House of Representatives, dated August 8th, 1952, included a report from the Department of the Army, chief of Engineers [Lt. Gen. Lewis A. Pick].
Stevens said the preliminary examination and survey of the harbor at Playa del Rey and a review of reports on the Playa del Rey Inlet and Basin near Venice was intended to determine whether any improvement of the location was warranted at the time as authorized by the River and Harbor Act approved on August 26th, 1937, and requested by a resolution of the Committee on Commerce, United States Senate, adopted on June 2nd, 1936.”
“The Bureau of the Budget advises that while there is no objection to submission of the report to Congress, authorization of the improvement recommended herein would not be in accord with the program of the President [Eisenhower] unless the federal participation is limited to 50 percent of the cost of the generational navigation facilities,” stated Stevens’ letter.
In response to Stevens’ letter, Donald Belcher, assistant director of the Bureau of the Budget, Executive Office of the President, wrote back saying, “The Chief of Engineers [Pick] considers the proposed federal participation in the project appropriate ‘if it is the intent of Congress to provide federal assistance in the development of recreational boating facilities of the type proposed in this report.’”
Pick’s report included several points such as “relocation of the oil wells, construction of public facilities, providing adequate berthing and other facilities for small craft, and establishing a public body to regulate the use and development of the harbor facilities which shall be open to all on equal terms.” According to the report, “the proposed improvements are designed to meet recreational boating needs and are not significant from the standpoint of commercial navigation.”
Belcher pointed out that in his 1955 budget message, President Eisenhower had stated, “To the greatest extent possible, the responsibility for resource development, and its cost, should be borne by those who receive the benefits.”
Belcher said that the benefits of the Playa del Rey Harbor would be largely local, but would make no contribution to the cost of the general navigation features of the project.
He said that the federal share of the costs of all recreational harbors should be limited to no more than 50 percent of the first cost of providing general navigation facilities, which in the case of Playa del Rey appeared to include the jetties, entrance channel, interior channel and central basin.
After congressional authorization of the project, development of Marina del Rey was a priority for the county in financial, planning and administrative terms, and on September 23rd, 1954, the county created the Department of Marinas and Harbors, subject to the authority of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
Although these powers were quite broad, the new department’s initial role was primarily one of assisting private consultants in developing the Marina.
As local sponsor of the project, the county would assume responsibility for three-fourths of the cost. Consequently, the Board of Supervisors authorized a study of the project’s economic feasibility and available financing methods.
Funding the Marina through general obligation bonds would have required that the bond issue be approved by a two-thirds vote of the electorate. Revenue bonds, on the other hand, needed the approval of only a majority and did not obligate the county’s general fund. A specified amount of revenue from the Marina’s operation would be designated for their redemption.
In March 1955, the Board of Supervisors hired George Nicholson and Company to “prepare a schematic plan for the facility and to conduct an economic feasibility study.”
Nicholson’s firm, along with the assistance of the Department of Marinas and Harbors, “was directed to reduce the Marina’s total cost and to increase the amount of land available for revenue-producing activities.”
In March 1956, Nicholson’s report stated that the project was economically feasible and provided the general rationale for undertaking it. The report included:
The 1955 population estimate of five million on the Southern California coast, and projections of future population growth;
The shortage of anchorages in the area, Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Newport harbors being the only existing facilities for small craft;
The inadequate arrangement for small craft at the predominantly commercial Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors;
The high cost of transportation to Newport Harbor;
An expanded demand for mooring space due to increases in population and boat ownership; and
The constraint of boat ownership in the area due to limited mooring space.
Nicholson’s report found “that the anticipated increases in annual tax returns from the Marina’s operation would justify the county’s spending $12.6 million for site acquisition and approximately $9.6 million for construction. Nicholson concluded that the possible future revenues justified a “rapid and bold program of acquisition and construction at the earliest possible date.”
Nicholson’s report also included a new physical design for the harbor, “Alternative Schematic Plan No. 2,” which had been adopted by the Board of Supervisors on February 21st, 1956. The revised plan altered the shape of the harbor, discarding the sailing lagoon (elliptical basin) for a straight main channel with seven moles.
The new design addressed the Marina’s cost problem in two ways; it decreased the total area from 1,170 acres to 918 and increased the amount of land from 453 acres to 508.
This had the effect of making more revenue-producing land available while actually lowering the site acquisition costs, the report stated.
As its first action, the county began acquiring rights-of-way for the project and designated $1,373,074 for initiation of the proposed project. The US Army Corps of Engineers, however, made further changes in the design
when it formally approved the agreement.
In its “Design Memorandum No. 1, General Design for Playa del Rey Inlet and Harbor, Venice, California,” dated November 1956, the Corps further reduced the total acreage for the proposed harbor from 918 acres to 824 acres.
The amount of water acreage, however, was increased from 410 to 451 and the amount of land acreage was reduced from 508 to 373. As can be seen from a comparison of maps, the major land reduction was in the area bounded by Lincoln Boulevard, Basin H and the Ballona Creek Flood Control Channel.
The Corps’ plan called for 6,200 mooring slips and provisions for 2,000 trailer-mounted craft. This was a greater number of slips per water acre than its previously approved plan for 8,000 slips utilizing 717 acres of water.
The design eliminated the sailing lagoon that precluded the use of the Marina by small boats seeking protected waters and/or recreational areas.
This authorized redesign officially changed the basic character of the Marina from a traditional recreational harbor to a berthing facility whose waters would be used primarily for entrance and exit by larger recreational craft.
The initial decision of the county to eliminate the sailing lagoon and the actions of the Corps in making official design changes took place without public hearings.
There was an increase in the proposed local share of almost $4 million and a reduction in federal involvement of almost $3 million between 1954 and 1958 because of final modifications in design involving dredging, realignment of roads and adjustment of beach lines.
The county proposed to meet its obligation by a resolution submitted to the electorate on November 6th, 1956, calling for the issuance of $13 million in revenue bonds to finance small boat harbor improvements and facilities for the public’s convenience.
The voters approved the measure by a two-to-one margin. In addition to the bonds, the Board of Supervisors allocated $15 million from the county general fund for land purchases and borrowed $2 million from the State of California to provide its share of Marina funding.
On November 18th, 1958, a deed for “Perpetual Right-of-Way and Easement” between the County of Los Angeles and the United States of America was signed by Burton W. Chace, chairman of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
Land for the Marina was acquired between 1957 and 1959, primarily from private parties through condemnation or negotiated sales.
All but a small portion of the area was located in unincorporated territory under the direct jurisdiction of the county.
Several uninhabited parcels of land included in the project were owned by the county, but were within the City of Los Angeles. By agreement, these sections were disincorporated from the city in December 1960.