By Helga Gendell
Part II of the history of Marina del Rey covers actions taken after the 1936 hearing of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with 123 people attending, representing realtors, commercial interests, chambers of commerce, boat owners and one individual concerned about environmental issues.
All of the following historical information is cited from “The Urban Marina: Managing and Developing Marina del Rey,” by Marsha V. Rood and Robert Warren of the Center for Urban Affairs Sea Grant Program and published by USC.
Following the 1936 hearing, Congress approved a preliminary survey for Playa del Rey Inlet. Because information necessary for U.S. Army Corps requirements was unavailable, the Corps asked that local groups submit information on the following questions:
The character, location and established cost of improvements desired;
The value of water-borne commerce and traffic, and size of the craft that the improvement would serve;
The justification for the expenditure entailed, based upon increased traffic and commerce to result, and the value of benefits to accrue;
The necessity for such improvements, with special reference to the requirements of navigation;
The area to be served by the desired improvements; and
The interests to be benefited by the improvements; and the cooperation and/or contribution on what the United States might expect of local interests toward the cost of the desired improvements or in the construction of complimentary works at local expense.
In April 1937, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, at the request of the Culver City Chamber of Commerce and others, assumed responsibility for providing information to the Corps.
The supervisors requested the county Regional Planning Commission to study the economic feasibility of a recreational harbor in collaboration with engineering consultant George Nicholson.
The report, titled “Marina del Rey,” was completed in June 1938. In addition to the economic aspects of the project, the document made a “Ö. full examination of all aspects of the problem, which sound planning principles require and examined them in relation to comprehensive plans for the physical development of the county as a whole.”
The “Marina del Rey” report emphasized that the harbor would service the recreational needs of an already large and increasing number of boaters in the area.
In preparing the report, the Regional Planning Commission conducted a survey, which revealed that 40 percent of the boats in the area were 15 feet to 20 feet in length; 41.6 percent were between 20 feet and 35 feet long; and less than one percent of the total was yachts (length in excess of 100 feet).
On this basis, the report concluded that “Ö. these boats form a recreational outlet for a great many of the middle class.”
The commission also justified a harbor at Playa del Rey Inlet in terms of the increased ownership of small pleasure craft, the widespread economic benefit through increased permanent employment and business volume, and the rise in property taxes in the area.
Prior to the report there had been no local agreement about the magnitude of the facility or its design characteristics. Therefore, the Regional Planning Commission’s proposals were considered tentative for purposes of the study.
The preliminary design plan that the commission finally submitted had an estimated cost of $9.75 million.
By reference to a map titled “Marina del Rey,” Öan entrance was provided through the mouth of Ballona Creek into a large sailing lagoon (435 acres) which would have created ample space for boat maneuvers as well as an area for small craft recreation.
Around the main lagoon, a series of smaller lagoons enclosed the mooring slips, providing a total water area (including entrance channels) of 646 acres for approximately 5,200 moored boats.
The county was acting without the benefit of any serious previous discussion about financing the project. Consequently, in exploring local funding sources, the report examined those sections of the local California Harbors and Navigation Code enacted in 1937 that authorized the establishment of Recreational Harbor Districts.
Such districts required, among other things:
The filing of a petition by 50 or more property holders who are registered, qualified electors within the district, stating facts concerning the proposed harbor;
A report from the chief of the Division of State Lands approving, or disapproving, the location of the proposed recreational harbor; this report if favorable, to be later approved, or disapproved by the government;
Further investigation by the Board of Supervisors, followed by a resolution establishing exterior boundaries of the district; after hearings, the filing of an assessment map, and the calling of an election;
A majority vote “for the harbor district,” after which the district is formed, a board of later governors is appointed, with powers and duties appropriate to the purpose, including the power to acquire land, not only for the harbor itself, but for bathing, park use, or access; and
All bonds issued payable as follows: A part, not less than one-40th of the whole indebtedness, shall be paid each and every year on a fixed date, together with interest on sum unpaid at such a date.
The last provision made it inevitable that during the construction period and the first few years thereafter, a sum would have to be collected by a property tax upon the district as a whole.
To justify the tax burden for those who were not involved in recreational boating, the intangible benefits of a large park for many recreational purposes became a major theme of the report.
Since no large regional park served this area as the northeast section of the city was served by Griffith Park, there was reasonable justification for this concern.
The report stated, “Any plan for a yacht harbor in this vicinity should be of a character and scope sufficient to provide at the same time for land activities, as well as aquatic.”
The design plans, which are the basis of the economic studies in this report, are consequently comprehensive in character and call for a development of major importance and value to the citizens of the entire county, whether they are interested in boating as a sport, or not.
This report therefore deals with a regional park development, providing for a great variety of year-round activities.
In order to make the Marina a recreational asset for the general public as well as boat owners, the report advised that all of the areas between Pacific Coast Highway and the ocean should be treated as a regional park. Bathing beaches, pools for children’s sports, playfields, picnic grounds, and landscaped areas were all designated on the design plan.
The exact number of acres for land and/or the project as a whole was not specified. The report suggested that an administration building, a post office, a branch library, a chamber of commerce office, and a marine museum and aquarium might also be included.
The plan also contemplated that the county would acquire areas outside the harbor limits for marine-related industrial and business uses such as boat yards, gasoline stations, yacht clubs, charter boats and marine supplies.
On this basis, the report pointed out that it was “erroneous to assume that the initial cost per boat was excessive or that the harbor would serve only those who owned boats; the boat owners, through mooring fees and other sources, will actually contribute more than is expended on the facilities they use, leaving the general recreational facilities (bathing, picnicking, athletics, model boat racing) and the increase in assessed values and attractiveness of the county to its citizens and to visitors, as a net gain to the public.”