The Argonaut reported Nov. 17 on the latest major development in the ongoing political saga that is Marina del Rey’s quest for redevelopment. There were decisions made about various “parcels,” “visitor-serving uses,” “overlay zones,” and many other esoteric terms that indicate certain changes to our local land and seascape are well on their way.
The California Coastal Commission’s approval of this Local Coastal Program (LCP) amendment is a substantial move toward this area undergoing serious change, and local boaters will likely feel the change most vividly.
What Commissioner William Burke, a self described boater, said at the Nov. 3 meeting resonated with me and was in a way sort of disturbing. He said smiling, “You get 10 boaters together and you’ll get 10 different opinions of anything.”
I have found that to be mostly true and perhaps an indicator as to why this process has been a difficult and at times contentious one. If we accept boaters are as Burke describes and we admit that politicians can be a squirrely breed – we have quite a mixture in place – a problematic mixture for trying to get at a common goal. Most everyone agrees that this area is in need of a makeover, but moving it forward has always been painful.
It seems that this process, at times, behaves like a dog chasing its tail. There is a clear lack of trust from a contingent of the public towards the public officials who have been tasked to manage this complicated situation and in turn these officials, sensing this feeling, can seem less than sympathetic in both their demeanor and their actions. But at the Coastal Commission meeting, Beaches and Harbors Director Santos Kriemann spoke emotionally about how the county has listened to the public during this process.
“The public did a wonderful job of refocusing us and challenging us to produce a very balanced development plan and that’s what we have here,” Kriemann said proudly. “It’s significantly different than what we had in 2008. We listened.”
But some might say that “listening” isn’t the same as being open, empathetic and responsive to issues being brought forth. While Kriemann might deem himself a good listener, the actions of the county aren’t always perceived as warm and fuzzy.
Not too long ago boat tenants from a number of anchorages were indignantly questioning county officials about steep and sudden slip fee increases (some in the 40 percent range). Kriemann was indeed present at the Small Craft Harbor Commission meetings and he listened, but his listening didn’t change the pain some tenants endured. The county presented independent “market research” analysts to defend the price hike, saying they were underpriced for a long time and now they were in the middle-range, but it’s safe to assume some boaters saw the immediacy and lack of communication of the increases as cold.
At the county-run mast up storage facility, running water, used for rinsing boats, was removed without warning while rents went up nearly 40 percent instantly. It was not a great day for trailer sailors, but Kriemann insisted that the new black top and rewiring made the price hikes justified. Maybe he’s right, maybe not, but one thing is certain – it didn’t feel nice. It didn’t feel like a sweet, good listener was behind it all. Incidentally, there are many open slips in this facility at present.
Even the location of such an important Coastal Commission meeting in Oceanside didn’t suggest “good listener.” One would think that a meeting of such substance would be a bit closer to home. And for that matter, there have been many meetings that have taken place at difficult times and locations for normal working people to attend.
Are we not yet in the world of “virtual public meeting?” There has to be a way, given our access to so much advanced technology, for these meetings to be attended without being on site. And the complaint is heard so often that the information/agendas of a given meeting wasn’t provided far enough in advance. No one wants to be suspicious, but not providing people with enough time to think about issues is “slippery 101.”
On the other hand, in more than a few of these said 79 meetings I’ve seen and heard members of the public be adversarial and very uncompromising. There’s often been a demeanor that suggests battle over process.
I had several interactions with a more vocal member of the boater advocacy faction and I got a taste of how incredibly un-objective and unyielding his view was. While he was formative in his knowledge of facts and history, when asked to entertain alternative ideas for the sake of argument, he became angry. I thought to myself, “if this is the general disposition of the local boating activist, we’re in for a long argumentative haul.”
The Argonaut article Nov. 17 tells very specifically what is on the fast track, but one thing is certain – there will be overall and smaller slip reductions. Coastal Commission Deputy Director Jack Ainsworth made it clear in his presentation that between the Americans with Disabilities Act and Department of Boating and Waterways guidelines and anticipated future market demands, there’s no way around losing slips. This has been an issue of intense controversy and will not make those who have been fighting for the preservation of small slips happy at all.
So, as I dust off my old Jimmy Carter rubber mask, I ask both sides to move forward in this process as components and shapers of change.
To the member of the public who has important and personal concerns, I suggest cordiality. Be articulate and don’t drone on. Consider the personal anecdote you’re going to use during your three minutes at the podium. I know you think it has a more broad-reaching message, but does it really? Realize that if you truly care for your cause, a bad showing hurts everyone. Edit yourselves – less is more – trim the fat – don’t complain, and attempt to understand that the people in front of you are conduits, not enemies.
To the county and other holders of political power I suggest more transparency, more and better communication, empathy and candidness. Work harder at developing ways, means, systems and structures that make the process more fluid, pleasant and understandable. And don’t take the bait when a member of the public is angry and calling you names – your job is not to comment on someone’s comment or take something personally – your job is to “listen”…listen and respond.