Marina del Rey officials hoping to win over Silicon Beach types should Google themselves a clue

By William Hicks

Demonstrators rallied last December to oppose the removal of 650 trees from Oxford Basin Lagoon Photo by Gary Walker

Demonstrators rallied last December to oppose the removal of 650 trees from Oxford Basin Lagoon
Photo by Gary Walker

Big Silicon Valley companies such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple are incorporating more nature into their new buildings in order to attract workers and inspire creativity.

Ironically, in its attempt to attract this same demographic to Marina del Rey, L.A. County has been treating nature like a temporary Hollywood movie set. With no regard for existing plant and animal life, it’s like county officials have been saying, “Strike the set!”

Facebook’s newest building up in Menlo Park features a nine-acre green roof with a half-mile walking loop and more than 400 trees. Google’s plan to redevelop its Mountain View campus involves four futuristic hubs under sweeping glass canopies, with a multitude of trees and bike paths. Apple’s four-story circular building in Cupertino will encircle a large park with fruit trees and other vegetation. Amazon’s new office towers will be built around glass bio-domes high enough to accommodate mature trees.

All this begs the question: What’s up with L.A. County?

Well, nobody really knows for sure. While denuding Oxford Basin Lagoon of 650 trees in order to replant the area, the words “native” and “drought-friendly” were tossed around a lot, though I haven’t seen any solid evidence that the new landscape will actually save water there. The county called the old trees “diseased,” but I’d like to see documentation from a certified biologist.

And then there’s the planned redevelopment of the Mariners Village apartments. For various reasons (including replacing old pipes), the leaseholder-developer says 1,000-plus trees must go. With technologies such as trenchless plumbing and seamless pipes, this seems like quite the logical leap.

The mindset to destroy nature is not restricted to county government and their partnering developers.

An abundance of massive and beautiful trees once lined Main Street in El Segundo. Their countless evergreen leaves used to paint the skyline, providing shade for buildings and homes for birds and other wildlife. Most of these trees were callously cut down. Shame on you, El Segundo!

Sure, some tree roots have a tendency to crack cement and asphalt, but this problem can also be remedied by flexible and porous concrete — 20,000 square feet of which has already been put to use by the City of Santa Monica. Bravo, Santa Monica! Thank you for offering another way of dealing with a challenge.

If county leaders want Marina del Rey to accommodate and benefit from the growth of Silicon Beach — the Westside’s Silicon Valley — shouldn’t they be “paving the way” with new cutting-edge technologies instead of carrying out the same old outdated practices?

“We have a duty to reflect in the physical environment the values that have been manifested in the innovations that have come out of this part of California,” architect Thomas Heatherwick says in a YouTube video about Google’s plans up north. “It’s interesting to try and look at how you can really augment or turn the dial up more on nature at the same time as looking to really protect the land use.”

“What we’ve tried to do is take a step back and say, ‘How do buildings work with nature?” Next to ecological sensitive areas, we’re able to pull back buildings and create wildlife habitat,” says David Radcliffe, Google’s vice president of real estate and workplace services.

“We’re trying to retransform the sea of parking that you find today into a natural landscape where you’ll find an abundance of green both inside and outside,” adds Bjarke Ingels, another architect working for Google.

Maybe county planners should ask the Silicon Beach workforce about their preferences for live and work spaces. So far, it would appear they’d favor an urban forest over a cement desert.

There is an assumption out there that many Marina del Rey residents oppose plans to intensify development because they just don’t want change. The reality is that residents don’t want change for the worse.

I’m not against generating more public revenue, but county leaders should weigh their development plans’ long-term costs and benefits to the many residents and business owners who have contributed to the local economy for decades.

And if that isn’t top-of-mind, at least consider the apparent desire to coexist with nature being expressed by those tech-savvy people we’re so eager to accommodate.

Reach the author, a Marina del Rey resident, at williamhicks.columnist@gmail.com.

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