County commission agrees, putting a wrinkle in Marina del Rey redevelopment strategy
By Gary Walker
A county advisory commission reviewing a proposal to reconfigure the landscape of Marina del Rey sided with an unexpected coalition of boat owners and business interests in opposing the relocation of the harbor’s public boat launch.
The Small Craft Harbor Commission voted 5-0 to oppose moving the launch, described as one of the best in Southern California by many of the 150-plus people who attended the May 28 meeting at Burton Chace Park community room.
“I think it was very clear from the testimony of the speakers that they did not feel there was any need to move the boat launch ramp,” commission member Russell Lesser said after the meeting. “The commission felt that moving it makes no sense at all. There was no clear understanding of why [the L.A. County Dept. of Regional Planning] wanted to move it.”
Prior to the vote, Dept. of Regional Planning representatives outlined the county’s multidecade visioning plan to accommodate 200,000 square feet of new retail development, as many as 940 additional hotel rooms and a public pedestrian promenade by reshaping the harbor into four distinct districts: residential, retail, boating and Mother’s Beach.
In order to accommodate those districts, the existing boat launch located at 13477 Fiji Way would be moved further down Fiji to where Fisherman’s Village, which also faces demolition, stands today. Boat storage and maintenance facilities would also shift toward the far end of Fiji in order to accommodate retail growth to the northeast. Costs of the boat launch relocation have been estimated at about $8 million.
While boat owners often voice grievances against the county at commission meetings, this meeting’s public comment portion was particularly animated, with claims that officials were advancing specious and illegal motives through the county’s harbor redevelopment plan.
Many charge that the county’s ultimate goal is to push owners of small boats out the harbor, with many saying that the retail-heavy visioning plan and other initiatives would discourage recreational boating in Marina del Rey.
Michelle Summers, who said she worked in urban planning, expressed surprise that dinghy docks, which would allow boaters to move more easily throughout the harbor, were not discussed.
“All I see here is an increase in revenue and a continued reliance on the corporate structure rather than public service,” Summers said.
The commission vote is not binding, but several opponents of moving the launch were heartened by the decision.
“You have the best ramp in almost all of Southern California. There’s no reason to spend $8 million to move it,” said Michael Leneman, owner of the local boat hull design-and-build shop Multi Marine.
He cautioned during the meeting that the county’s preferred boat launch relocation site would expose boaters to unfavorable wind conditions during launch and retrieval.
“I know the direction that the wind blows from, and it’s perpendicular to those docks. If you move that launch ramp and there are accidents, I will testify at every court hearing that you were told that this is a very dangerous place to put a launch ramp,” said Leneman, who teaches oceanography at Cal State Northridge. “All of the optional plans for moving the launch ramp are ridiculously bad. If any of my students ever came up with those plans and had ever launched a boat in their life, I’d give them an F.”
Los Angeles County Supervising Regional Planner Gina Natoli said that if the boat launch remains where it is, it would start a domino effect impacting the entire visioning plan to consolidate harbor uses into specific districts and hamper plans to integrate new uses.
“We would be back to looking at other options to reroute the promenade and making our retail and commercial and visitor-serving plans more attractive. Any changes would also have an impact on our mobility plans to make the marina more walkable,” Natoli said.
California Yacht Club President Steven Hathaway said the county’s plan to move the public boat launch could also impact his club’s boatyard and two hoists.
“My concern is that the visioning process suggests that the pedestrian promenade should be continuous throughout the marina. But even the county acknowledges that it can be unsafe and dangerous where pedestrians and marine uses coexist, especially where boats, trailers and vehicles are involved in launching activities,” Hathaway said. “The visioning statement should recognize that the goal of recreational boating can conflict with a continuous pedestrian promenade.”
Tim Riley, who represents the Marina Lessees Assn., said leaseholders of county-owned residential and commercial parcels in the harbor aren’t satisfied that there is enough justification for moving the boat launch.
“We would like to know what went into the decision on picking the relocation of the launch ramp as opposed to the other alternatives that would keep it in place,” said Riley, who called for documentation of public input on whether to move the boat launch.
Several speakers claimed they had heard about the meeting last-minute or had been unaware of the county visioning plan despite multiple public workshops held in Marina del Rey last year.
The next hearing about the county’s visioning plan is before the Los Angeles County Design and Control Board on June 18 at the Burton Chace Park community room. Following that meeting, the matter heads to the Regional Planning Commission.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is expected to make a final decision this fall, Natoli said.