The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved an aggregate amendment for the Marina del Rey Local Coastal Program (LCP) at its Feb. 1 meeting after three years of heated opposition from many local residents and boaters.

On Sept. 1, 2009, the Board of Supervisors had instructed the county’s Department of Regional Planning and the Department of Beaches and Harbors to undertake a “roadmap approach” to development in Marina del Rey. This roadmap included a response to the California Coastal Commission’s periodic review, a single map and text amendment aggregating all known proposed amendments for the Marina into a single amendment, and a visioning process for the future of the Marina.

The visioning process, which is due to the supervisors in 2014, will evaluate Marina leases that are terminating in the next 15 to 20 years and will shape “Phase III development” of the Marina, said Michael Tripp, a principal planner with the Department of Regional Planning.

Originally, six pipeline projects were included in that aggregate amendment package, but in November 2009, the developer for a residential hotel at Marina (Mothers) Beach (Parcel IR) withdrew the project. The second project, The Waterfront (Parcels 33/NR), was withdrawn at a Dec. 15 Regional Planning Commission meeting after the developer heard concerns from Marina residents and boaters.

The approved LCP amendment includes the remaining four pipeline projects, a planning-driven amendment related to protecting sensitive biological resources (SBR), open-space enhancements, public parking, and collapsing 14 existing development zones into three zones.

The four remaining pipeline projects include: Neptune Marina (Parcel 10/FF – 526 dwelling units); Oceana Retirement (Parcel OT – 114 senior units, 3,500 square feet of retail space and 92 public parking spaces); Boat Central (Parcel 52/GG – 375 dry stack storage spaces, 3,080 square feet of office use and a 3,350-square foot county boatwright shop); and the Parcel 49/77 Launch Ramp (135,000 square feet of visitor-serving commercial space with up to 26,000 square feet of office use for the Department of Beaches and Harbors Administration Building – while preserving and enhancing existing boating amenities.

We ARE Marina del Rey had organized a group of about 45 people to rally against approval of the amendment in front of the Hall of Administration prior to the meeting. Supervisor Don Knabe, whose Fourth District includes Marina del Rey, gave project opponents and supporters 35 minutes per group to voice their comments and concerns about the amendment.

The first speakers in opposition were Kristina Rudio, a seventh-grader at St. Augustine Catholic School in Culver City, and her brother Philip. Kristina noted that protection, maintenance, enhancement and restoration of the coastal zone are primary, and that public access, taking into account social and economic needs of the people of the state, were imperative. She claimed “this amendment is not for coastal-related uses and not in the best interests of public health, safety and general welfare.”

Philip Rudio said he and his sister participated in the 2006 Rally for Recreation to save Mothers Beach, and they had just learned that the developer withdrew his project at Mothers Beach after reportedly investing $600,000. He suggested that before wasting any more resources, the amendment should be withdrawn and replaced with a fresh master plan that has “a vision for a first-class boating and recreation destination as intended by source documents. Amendments are a tool to better implement the Coastal Act, not to challenge it,” he said.

John Rizzo, president of the Marina Tenants Association, alleged, “This pipeline project is a poster boy for corruption. Number one, it violates the lease and the law that says that the Marina lessees are only entitled to a fair return on their investment, and the Coastal Commission has said that is the cornerstone of the lease in the Marina.

“Also, the county counsel to the grand jury says that price control must be enforced. And they’re allowing the boat slips and the apartments to go to market value, and the excess money goes to the lessees, who are your campaign contribution people,” alleged Rizzo.

Rizzo claimed that the county doesn’t get its share, and the Marina water and land area is worth $10 billion, telling the board, “All you get is $35 million, half of which goes to the maintenance of the Marina.”

Resident Nancy Vernon Marino, co-director with David Barish of We ARE Marina del Rey, told the supervisors that she had a petition with 1,942 signatures calling for the suspension of consideration of all project approvals in the county’s unincorporated jurisdiction of Marina del Rey pending the development of a “well-defined, community-based master plan.”

According to the petition, the plan “addresses the land use of each parcel and proportionate land uses within the community, includes full participation of all stakeholders, including local residents and surrounding communities, reflects the mandate of Marina del Rey for public recreational use, includes provisions for essential community services, and considers and mitigates cumulative environmental and social impacts through an overall project environmental impact report.”

She said the proposed amendment plan is a “developer-driven plan based on developer-driven projects to which county staff has added a lot of policy changes that are much more appropriate in the public visioning process. We respectfully urge the Board of Supervisors to reject this LCP amendment while it is still in draft phase and immediately commence the community-based vision process.”

Kathy Knight, conservation chair of the Sierra Club’s Airport Marina Group, said the proposed issue is incompatible with the nearby California State Ecological Preserve of the Ballona Wetlands, and that the Marina was part of the Ballona Wetlands. She expressed concerns of damage to wildlife, increased traffic, and the loss of a recreational area to working class people.

Marina resident Marie Rassman claimed that public parking lots were being given away for a song to developers, inconsistent with the Coastal Act.

Jon Nahhas, a local resident and boater, said the huge reduction of entry-level boating resources would further privatize “our very public harbor,” and that boat builders are now building smaller boats because “larger boats are unsustainable, like the Humvee.”

Carla Andrus, a local resident and boat owner, said that a park on Map 5 in the Land Use Plan for the Marina was not only protected, but funded by a coastal improvement fund of $100,000, which has been accumulating interest for a decade-and-a-half.

“The county has characterized Parcel FF as an underutilized parking lot, instead of using it as a park for the last 15 years,” Andrus said. She claimed the supervisors “have denied the benefit of the promised park to visitors and residents on the Westside, and this is being held up for the Neptune Apartments, with its rotting docks and slum-like conditions.”

Speakers in opposition and those in support of the map and text amendment numbered approximately 30 on each side.

Rick Oefinger, who operates Marina del Rey Sports Fishing, said that last year more than 20,000 people from all walks of life and from around the world had parked and boarded his boats at Dock 52 for fishing and whale watching. Oefinger said the youth fishing programs takes up to 1,500 kids from all over Los Angeles for a day on the water at no cost to them. He said it is “unfair for his tenants, who have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in boats and equipment, believing we have a solid foundation here.”

Oefinger said the ideal location has served the company well, since sports fishing had been moved in the 1970s from Fisherman’s Village to Dock 52, where there is room to accommodate three 75-foot passenger vessels at one dock.

“Now they’ve suddenly come up with a plan for a tiny 100-foot Parcel 55 dock as a commercial and disembarkation point,” he said.

He questioned where the passengers would park their cars since there is no parking structure, and suggested that the Dock 52, dry stack-storage Parcel 55 package be put on hold until the county has a “solid, well-thought-out plan that will not be detrimental to the future of sports fishing in the Marina.”

Dr. Charles Cohen, a veterinarian and Marina City Club resident, said he is concerned about the public health issue brought on by such increased development and a resulting increase in dog and cat urination and defecation in the community. The overburdening of the Marina power grid with increased development was also of concern to him.

He claimed that Donald Markowitz, Southern California Edison Regional Systems manager, said the existing power grid in the Marina would be overtaxed, “which has failed three times over the past 20 months at least, most recently two nights ago, affecting Del Rey Yacht Club, the apartments on Palawan Way, and Marina City Club West and Central Towers, a total of over 1,000 plus residents.”

Cohen said over-development would make the Marina a less-than-desirable place to live.

Several members of the boating community said they appreciate the removal of Parcel 33/NR, The Waterfront, from the map and text amendment because of the critical impact the project would have on the numerous individuals who use Mothers Beach.

Gregory Shaghoian said he was appreciative that the hotel project on Mothers Beach and The Waterfront parcel had been removed from the pipeline projects, and added that beach development should be to enhance that area for all of the public and first-time recreational boaters.

Christopher King, a member of the Marina del Rey Outrigger Canoe Club and the Marina del Rey Boating Council, said the club has been based in the Marina for about 40 years, with approximately 159 members, from age 8 to about 70. He said Marina Beach is a very unique resource to the citizens of Los Angeles, and provides the only protected beach launch access for low-cost recreational boating.

“We also believe that there are several provisions of the Coastal Act which pertain to the removal of Parcel 33/NR (the proposed Waterfront project at Admiralty Way), and parking and access for low-cost recreational boating are protected in the LCP,” said King. “That lack of parking will result in lack of access and subsequently lack of use, and will impact a wide swath of user groups – kids, families, individuals, members, organizations, and others. Short-term, we recommend the removal and support by Regional Planning and Beaches and Harbors of [Parcel] 33/NR.”

Paul Wilkins, the southwest programs coordinator for U.S. Rowing, said that the organization is the governing body for the sport of rowing, overseeing some 1,100 clubs nationally and internationally, with representation at various levels of world competition.

“We would recommend approval of the map and text amendments and suggest that a public boathouse be added to the envisioning process for the future,” he said.

Supporters of the map and text amendment included Greg Schem, the lessee for the Boatyard and Del Rey Landing. He said he’s been an avid boater in the Marina for 30 years, and called the map and text amendment “common sense and good public policy.” Expressing his support, Schem said the Marina has been languishing as leaseholds have deteriorated due to the lack of redevelopment.

David Levine, president of the Marina del Rey Lessees Association, said, “(The association) has previously expressed its support for the efforts of this major amendment to increase shoreline access for the public, to expand opportunities for public events, to accommodate the undeniable trend toward larger and wider boats, to maximize the value of recreational assets, to restore the Oxford Basin as an open water and marsh habitat, to expand public transportation resources, and to provide for a sensible management of biological resources, among other laudable goals.

“We approve this proposed major land use amendment so that the county can be one step closer to stimulating the type of development that will bring a mix of new and renovated improvements to serve residents, visitors and boaters alike,” said Levine.

He noted that his association is not advocating on behalf of any of the “so-called pipeline projects,” but that they “urge the county to prioritize the development of more restaurants and hotels, as well as related commercial and recreational opportunities.”

Another of the amendment supporters was Tim O’Brien, the managing director of Legacy Partners, the lessee company for the Neptune Marina Apartments.

“We’ve been working on a proposal to redevelop Neptune Marina for the past 10 years, and participated in countless public hearings and workshops. The approval of the map and text amendment today is going to move our project one step closer to becoming a reality.

“And this project will be good for the community. Not only does it replace housing units which are functionally obsolescent, we’re going to have an educational wetland park, expanded promenade area and probably, most importantly, over 85 affordable housing units which are included in the project,” O’Brien said.

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