Barry Simon was facing a dilemma that boat owners across Southern California say is becoming more and more commonplace ó in a lingering recession, how do you maintain a longtime hobby that seemingly becomes costlier each year?
A former Los Angeles City Parks and Recreation Department employee, Simon said he was taken aback when Almar, the anchorage in Marina del Rey where he docks his 27-foot Pro-Line, raised his slip rate for the second time in less than a year.
ìFirst it was ten percent, then 12 percent, and now theyíre increasing them to 14 percent,î Simon lamented, referring to the exponential rises in boat slips that have engulfed the Marina over the last three years.
Simon and others represent a snapshot of how life has changed for residents and recreational boat owners in the affluent coastal enclave as harsh economic times batter the financial portfolios of individuals and all levels of government like an unwelcome winter squall.
For many Marina recreational boaters, they also view themselves as the collateral damage in the ongoing debate that centers around the rights of those who adhere to the philosophy that Marina del Rey was created for sailing and recreational purposes and the mandates of those charged with maximizing the considerable financial assets of 2.4 million residents of Los Angeles County.
Others are upset that some of the Marinaís lessees have chosen to raise their fees for boating slips or are charging a high price for rentals with the nation in the throes of a recession. Doug Pease, the new dockmaster at the Bay Club on Tahiti Way, said that while his anchorage has lost clients, it has also gained some in recent weeks.
ìPeople decided to go to different marinas for many reasons,î Pease explained. ìSome of them leave because they want to be at a more luxurious anchorage and can afford the slip rates there, and others come because they are looking for a better deal than they have right now.î
The Bay Club has not raised its slip fees this year and is offering new tenants one-year leases where the rental fees will not be raised, and that is what largely attracted boaters like Simon and Lou Gladser, who has also decided to leave Almar.
ìThey raised their rates 27.7 percent within 11 months,î Gladser said. ìWeíre not wealthy people and we love boating, but itís kind of becoming a hardship these days.î
Some Marina lessees are cognizant of the difficulties that middle-class boat owners are facing in the dismal economic climate.
ìWeíre aware of the current financial realities and weíre adjusting our approach to them,î Pease said.
Almarís slip fee hike does not fall outside the countyís market rate policy that pertains to dock rentals, says Kerry Silverstrom, chief deputy at the county Department of Beaches and Harbors.
ìWe have conducted rate reviews and their increase does fall within the market rate formula in the Marina,î Silverstrom told The Argonaut. ìWe actively encourage our lessees to keep their rates reasonable, but we cannot force them to not raise their rates.î
Los Angeles County uses a survey of slip prices at harbors and anchorages from Santa Barbara to Newport Beach to determine its rental formula, and a market comparison on the amount charged is based on the size of the slip and calculated into the price.
The controversy over how the boat slip fees should be set has a long and arduous history, dating back more than a quarter century. But for recreational boat owners caught in a downward spiraling economy, they are sometimes faced with the decision of selling their boats, losing their ability to store their vessels or seeking refuge in another marina.
ìMy other alternative, if I didnít know about the Bay Club, would have been to sell my boat,î said Gladser.
Simon, a Playa del Rey resident, says that he is not the only disgruntled tenant at Almar.
ìThere are a lot of people who are up in arms (over the raise in slip fees),î he said.
Meetings with representatives from Supervisor Don Knabeís office have been fruitless, said Simon.
ìI was so frustrated after meeting with Steve Penn (of Beaches and Harbors) and Steve Napolitano (Knabeís Torrance field deputy) that I decided to move to another marina,î he said.
When marinas set their prices for slip rentals that are out of the market for many small boat owners, it is not in line with the original purpose of creating Marina del Rey over 40 years ago, say many longtime residents.
ìThe whole purpose of Marina del Rey was to make boating accessible to the general public,î said Pease. ìIf we price it out of the market, weíre defeating that purpose.î
Esprit I, a relatively new anchorage that has some of the most expensive rental fees in Marina del Rey and has more slips for large boats than for smaller vessels, has not been able to lure tenants the way that it has hoped, say county officials. The Bay Clubís one-year lease offer has attracted clients like Simon who are searching for a more reasonable deal on their slip rates.
ìFor the first time in years, people have options, and theyíre exercising those options,î said Pease, who has worked in Marina del Rey for several years.
Simon feels that county authorities, including the Board of Supervisors, prefer having tenants who can afford the fees that larger boats demand and that owners of smaller watercraft are slowly being pushed out, a familiar refrain in the Marina.
ìItís clear that they want to make as much money as they can, and they can make more money with the large boats and larger marinas,î said Simon.
Silverstrom said that Almar representatives have stated to her that they have incurred an increase in certain expenditures and it was necessary to raise its slip fees.
ìThey have said that their operating costs have increased, due to some work that they had been performing on their docks,î she said.
County officials insist that there are still slips available for those who own smaller boats, and there is not a plot to cater to larger vessels.
Local boat brokers acknowledge that recent trends have favored the purchase of larger boats in Marina del Rey.
ìCertainly over the last six months or so, sales have been going that way,î said Jim Baldy, a salesman at Marina del Rey Yacht Sales on Panay Way.
While he feels that the economy has affected small boat owners the most, Baldy says that he has not noticed a lot of people selling their boats.
ìI donít see a lot of panic selling,î he said.
Simon, who will start his tenancy at the Bay Club in April, says he is happy to leave Almar.
ìIíll be saving over $100 a month,î he said. ìItís not right for (Almar) to be doing what theyíre doing in these dire economic times.î
Julie Summers, the manager at Almar, did not return calls from The Argonaut seeking comment.