By Helga Gendell

DREDGING BARGE 1960 in what would be Marina del Rey Harbor (Photo courtesy of Greg Wenger/Marina del Rey Historical Society)

DREDGING BARGE 1960 in what would be Marina del Rey Harbor (Photo courtesy of Greg Wenger/Marina del Rey Historical Society)

Part V of the Marina del Rey history covers actions following the interaction of Los Angeles County officials, lessees and bondholders who helped shape the initial policies, procedures, and communication channels for managing the Marina.

The following information is cited from “The Urban Marina: Managing and Developing Marina del Rey” by Marsha V. Rood and Robert Warren.

After Los Angeles Herald —Express reporter Jack Keating’s article about the county being engaged in “giveaway deals” (sourced in Part IV, April 22nd Argonaut), pressure about Marina policies arose from another source in the latter part of the summer of 1961.

Residents and property owners on the Marina’s periphery began to react to the project’s implications for the overall area. In August 1961, the Small Property Owners League of Los Angeles County and the Venice Canal Improvement Association asked by letter that the county grand jury investigate the propriety, if not the legality, of a number of the Marina’s aspects, charging:

The many apartments planned will compete with the existing buildings surrounding the Marina;

An investigation should determine whether government money should be allocated and bond restitutions should have been allowed in a venture that considers the profit to outside investors above the welfare of taxpayers and constituents in Los Angeles County;

Three 13-story apartment buildings and three-and-four-story parking structures for cars place the accent on planned land use and minimize water use and boating aspects. Only one boat haul-out concession had been announced when launching facilities are most urgently needed in Southern California; and

The Marina, unlike others throughout the U.S., is designed to exclude view from the outside.

The letter to the grand jury concluded with this statement:

“We believe that no government-subsidized profit-making venture of this magnitude should lawfully exist which can in any way prevent orderly growth of other public and private developments.

“We ask that the investigation bring to light the effect of this arbitrary attitude on surrounding property owners and area residents, and that the secrecy be lifted so the public can be informed as to all planned future land and water use, and that all directors and officials of the combined management of this county engineer corps project be instructed to fully regard the immediate surrounding entities in their plans for immediate and future use of land and water.”

No grand jury action was taken on the request. However, the cumulative effect of bondholder concern over the failure to attract competitive bids, newspaper charges of favoritism, and opposition to developmental policies from some neighboring property owners produced changes in the Marina management structure.

The county Board of Supervisors voted on August 16th, 1961, to create a five-man citizens’ “watchdog committee” to act as an advisory body.

The lone opposing vote came from Supervisor Burton Chace. In support of the move, Supervisor Kenneth Hahn declared, “I think it’s high time the board acts, before there is more serious criticism, to keep the public informed on what is going on.”

Supervisor Ernest Debs argued that, “I am advised that some $19.5 million of the taxpayers’ money has gone into the Marina. In this case, I would feel a lot better if we had a citizens’ commission. My appointee will be an outstanding man from the field of finance.”

The supervisors voted that the members of the Small Craft Harbor Advisory Commission, appointed for three-year terms, would have training in one or more of the fields of corporate or governmental finance and investment; commercial or governmental construction; real property management; recreational harbor or port planning, management and operation; and public or private corporate executive management.

Further steps were taken to deal with the leasing problem. On the same day the commission was approved, Debs insisted that no further contracts be awarded until the commission was organized and could conduct a complete inquiry into all phases of Marina operation and all harbor leases.

He specifically demanded that:

“Whenever there is a lone concession bid, it should be rejected and the Marina director be instructed to obtain more competitive bidders.”

Subsequently, the supervisors instructed the county counsel, the CAO and DSCH to make an inquiry into leasing procedures relating to the Marina. On the basis of the report submitted to the board on leasing practices three weeks later, the supervisors revised the lease terms to make them more attractive to potential bidders and acceptable for Federal Housing Administration insurability.

Major changes included:

Private clubs — the requirement in the lease excluding private clubs was stricken from future leases as well as those already executed;

Price control — the amendment specified that decisions made by the director on prices to be charged by lessees could be appealed to the Board of Supervisors;

Rent renegotiation and arbitration — rent increases were not to be made during the first five years, nor more often than ten; and

Subleasing — the lessee could now, without prior approval of the director, sublease portions of the premises (including but not limited to, single residential units, boat slips, and dry storage racks) for individual, non-business, non-commercial uses.

Just as the formal structure for managing the Marina had emerged by 1961, so had a series of decision-making rules for the facility’s development.

Most of these rules stemmed from the county’s fiscal obligations and were pervasive in influencing the character of all subsequent Marina development.

The common view of the Marina as a “business venture” and its special status as a public facility is reflected in a letter written to acting director of the DSCH, Arthur G. Will, from the county counsel, Harold W. Kennedy, in November 1961:

“Under the county charter and the organization of county government, the Board of Supervisors is responsible for the proper conduct of all county departments including the department specifically created to have charge of the Marina Project.

“From a legal standpoint this department is somewhat different from other county departments in its origin and concept.

“Most departments are service departments and involve an obligation against general funds, but this department must have revenue and be run as a business venture in order to satisfy the requirements of the bond resolution.”

The decisions made during the 1960s concerning the range of facilities in the Marina and the type of physical development that took place can be best understood in terms of the following rules:

Protect the bondholders’ investment in the Marina Project (if the DSCH and/or the commission did not do so, default proceedings could be brought against the county);

Protect general revenue production of the Marina —the Marina plan was to be revised periodically to ensure that the project would achieve financial stability and thus ensure its existence. Two million dollars was established as the “break-even point” to pay off bond indebtedness (interest and principle) and operating costs. After minimum bid rents were exceeded, rental rates would then be based on a percentage of lessee’s gross revenues;

Lessees must have more than one bid to ensure against charges of favoritism by the press and the public;

Facilitate leasing by making lease provisions more attractive to potential lessees; and

Establish lines of communication between the Design Control Board, the Small Craft Harbor Advisory Commission (later named the Small Craft Harbor Commission), the Board of Supervisors, the Department of Small Craft Harbors, other government agencies, and the public.

[In November 1965, “bondholders voted overwhelmingly to forego bond redemption payments indefinitely,” according to a Los Angeles Times article by staff.]

[“The move, said harbor officials, served to cut the project’s operating deficit in the current fiscal year from an estimated $593,000 to $380,000. The reduction in the deficit will mean that a substantial part of $600,000 in tax money made available to the marina project by the Board of Supervisors last month will not be needed,” according to the Times article.]


By the time the dominant residential and commercial character of the Marina had become well established in the late 1960s, many slip renters began to perceive the pattern as a threat to the traditional boater’s lifestyle and as the cause for the excessive facility use costs.

The experiences of one boater, John Hjorth, and his wife, Willie, were important in dramatizing some of these feelings.

John and Willie Hjorth came to Marina del Rey as live-aboards in 1964 and signed a rental agreement for a slip on an anchorage parcel that had no apartment structures.

The anchorage changed hands twice, and by the end of 1967, it was owned by the Ponty-Fenmore Company and was called Tahiti Marina.

The Hjorths, who had two children, were offered a new slip rental agreement. They believed its terms were more restrictive than their original month-to-month sublease and retained the latter.

Meanwhile, Ponty-Fenmore constructed 149 apartments on the parcel which were advertised as having recreation facilities including outdoor swimming and therapeutic pools; fully equipped separate gyms for men and women, along with saunas; a beautiful new clubhouse, billiard rooms, sun decks, sheltered patios and barbecue pits; outdoor play areas; subterranean parking for more than 200 cars; extra storage space; laundry facilities; and all the comforts of home a step away from a Tahiti mooring.

In March 1969, Tahiti Marina served John Hjorth notice that he had no agreement in effect and asked him to sign a new lease. He again refused to sign the more restrictive lease that stated that only adult live-aboards would be allowed.

On April 1st, 1969, Hjorth received notice to “quit his premises” within a month unless a new agreement were signed. Under California law, a landlord can give a tenant a month’s notice to quit in the absence of a lease.

The reason for the notice need not be given, but in this case, the Tahiti Marina indicated that it did not wish to assume the insurance and liabilities incurred with minor children living at the anchorage.

There were rumors circulating at this time that a Marina-wide policy of no live-aboards was about to be adopted. Many interpreted this rumored action as an attempt by lessees to make slips available in package deals for prospective apartment residents.

True or not, the matter seemed to illustrate to live-aboards that the Marina was becoming a less favorable environment.

Beginning in April 1969, John Hjorth tried to prevent his eviction by writing letters and talking with other boaters.

Failing an accommodation with the Tahiti Marina, he wrote to the Department of Small Craft Harbors, Chace and the Harbor Commission of the state of California.

A petition was also sent to the department signed by boaters supporting Hjorth’s efforts to remain. While refusing to take action, the department did request a ruling from the county counsel on the county’s responsibility to the tenant.

The county counsel issued an opinion on April 30th 1969, that the county had no jurisdiction because it was a matter between the tenant and the lessee.

County counsel cited a section of the standard lease between the county and lessees which states: “Lessees may, without prior approval of the director, sublease portions of the demised premise (including but not limited to, single residential units, boat slips and dry storage racks) for a period not to exceed one year, for individual, non-business, non-commercial use.”

This section was a 1961 amendment to the original standard lease form that had required county approval for all subleases.

From one perspective, the change was a positive one. It removed the objections of prospective lessees and eliminated the necessity for departmental review of all subleases.

From another point of view, the modification meant that the right of on-commercial subleases to take their grievances to the county is non-existent or ambiguous at best.

Hjorth also took his case to the Pioneer Skippers. He stressed that as boaters, they could be threatened and evicted as he was. The group, however, was willing to give him only verbal support without taking any formal action.

A series of maneuvers involving Hjorth continued to August 1970 and included:

Using the press to create public pressure to stop the eviction;

Being taken to court in October 1969 with a resulting agreement for an 18-month stay of eviction without appeal while he looked for another slip;

Refusing to vacate at the appointed time on the grounds that he had been blackballed by other marinas and had no place to go;

Going back to court to unsuccessfully challenge its jurisdiction over the matter; and

Forcing Tahiti Marina to have a U.S. Marshal evict him and have his boat moored in a county slip because no other place could be found.

Hjorth’s activities spotlighted a number of existing and potential problems that boaters faced in the Marina and contributed to the gradual involvement of the Pioneer Skippers in Marina-wide management questions.

At the same time, the department and commission were undergoing adjustments in their relationship with boaters.

The emergence of slip tenants as a constituent group in the Marina’s policy making is reflected in three boater-related matters: slip rental rates, slip rental agreements and the construction of a do-it-yourself boat yard.