The county’s and region’s fiscal condition as well as transportation and recent overseas events were the primary topics on the menu for Fourth District County Supervisor Don Knabe at his annual State of the Marina speech to business leaders and members of the LAX Coastal Area Chamber of Commerce March 16 at the Marina del Rey Hotel.

Knabe, who represents Marina del Rey, referred to the coastal enclave as a “crown jewel” several times during his speech to the chamber members and again in a interview with The Argonaut afterwards.

The supervisor touched on a number of development projects that have been approved and are in the process of being greenlighted that will add housing to the area, as well as improve the Marina’s aging esthetics.

Recently, Knabe and the county Department of Beaches and Harbors met with officials from the United States Army Corps of Engineers to advocate for $12 million to dredge approximately 900,000 cubic yards of sediment in the Marina’s entrances and channel.

“It’s a unique opportunity for us, because, in conjunction, we’d be able to take that sediment out of there and get it moved to the Port of Long Beach instead of having to truck landfill around our freeways,” the supervisor told the audience.

The speech came shortly after the massive earthquake and ensuing tsunami in Japan, and Knabe noted that the county had upgraded all of its emergency training and mutual aid agreements despite facing economic hardship in recent years.

“As you know, we’re susceptible to earthquakes, floods and fires, and you have to be prepared,” Knabe said.

Knabe thanked Beaches and Harbors Director Santos Kreimann for his stewardship of the Marina’s Local Coastal Program (LCP) as well as the day-to-day functions that his department performs. “He’s been very inclusive, very open, actually getting things done,” he said. “We work very, very well together.”

Budget cuts are a part of the current economic situation, and Knabe touched on some of the services that may be invariably affected.

“Some service levels, adjustments of staff schedules and some operations, like restroom cleanings and landscaping may start later in the day,” the supervisor acknowledged. “We’re probably going to have to make some difficult decisions on community programs at some point.”

The Marina WaterBus, the Fourth of July fireworks, movie nights and the summer concert series at Burton Chace Park will continue this summer, but are not assured of being spared the budget axe next year, he said.

The county has cut approximately 17 percent of the budget this year without employee furloughs and layoffs, which the state government has been unable to do.

County department leaders have been asked to brace for additional reductions, ranging from 3 to 10 percent.

“We’re trying to be in a planning process to get ourselves in shape for what may be on the horizon instead of being in a position of panicking and reacting in a very negative way,” Knabe explained. “We’re trying to do this in a very disciplined way.”

The supervisor did bring a bit of good news with him regarding the current economic climate.

“The county did see a little bit of a bounce in sales and property tax. Nothing that you can jump up and down about,” he cautioned. “But that’s a sign that there’s movement in a positive way.”

LAX Coastal Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Christina Davis echoed Knabe’s economic findings, but also pointed out that there was a long way to go in terms of job creation locally.

“We’re always thrilled to have the supervisor come here to address the local business interests,” said Davis. “We’ve seen some positive signs in the private sector, so we’re cautiously optimistic.”

Knabe touched on transportation in a pre-State of the Marina interview with The Argonaut March 10, where he called the lack of a Metro Green Line extension to Los Angeles International Airport “a glaring gap in our regional transit system” and said the entire region could benefit economically as well as from a transportation standpoint with the extension.

Ken Alpern, the co-chair of the Transit Coalition, a light rail advocacy organization, agrees with Knabe’s assessment of the Green Line, which runs east to west and currently stops at Aviation Boulevard in Westchester.

“As much as mass transit helps with our environment and our quality of life, the main benefit that support transportation and mobility has to offer is the enhancement of commerce,” said Alpern, a Mar Vista resident.

After the speech, Knabe talked about what he would like the public to know is transpiring in the Marina as well as countywide.

“I speak at a lot of different chambers throughout my district, and I always try to localize my presentations,” the supervisor told The Argonaut. “There’s a lot going on out there and it’s nice to be able to give updates and progress, as well as the good things and the bad things.”

Knabe talked about his vision for the Marina, which includes a pedestrian-oriented area similar to what exists on Catalina Island.

“I envision a boardwalk all the way across this place, with golf carts or electric motor traffic only,” he said. “I think this is the promenade of all promenades, with boats, water, people walking around, and parking facilities outside where there’s immediate access to a shuttle bus system or a water bus or water taxi.

“I think that you have the opportunity to develop something like this out here, but I don’t know if you can get through all of the lawsuits at one time,” he said.

Knabe said that critics of Marina development often complain about “piecemealing” projects, a legal definition under the California Environmental Quality Act that essentially describes an action by a government entity that includes slicing a large project into smaller ones.

“But what they don’t understand is that every lawsuit that’s filed creates a kind of a piecemeal situation, because you lose the adaptability of the entire area,” Knabe explained.

Several residents have questioned why Knabe is not more visible in the Marina and he said that there are a number of reasons why he does not always have the opportunity to meet with the public.

“I think part of it is the size of my district, as well as other commitments on different committees like the airport, Metro and the Los Angeles Coliseum,” he said. “I have a lot of different meetings that I’m required to attend, but I don’t do anymore anywhere in other parts of my district than here in the Marina.”

Knabe said he does come out often to see the progress of local developments, but chooses not to publicize these events. “I’m out here a lot more than some people think, but I don’t do a lot of community meetings because I just don’t have the time,” he said.

A part of generating more revenue for the county’s coffers is making the Marina, a longtime tourist destination, attractive to in- and out-of-state visitors, the supervisor noted.

“You have an asset here that is a crown jewel but it’s close to 50 years old and it needs polishing,” he said. “This is sunshine and salt water, and if you put a piece of wood out there with paint on it, it takes it off over a period of time.”

Critics of Marina development have long called for a master plan and have accused Knabe and other representatives of the county of transforming Marina del Rey from a boater’s paradise into a single-minded cash generating machine catering solely to the wealthy.

“It’s ironic, because the argument from some of those folks a few years ago was that we weren’t getting enough from some of (the lessees) and now we’re getting too much because we’ve lost a lot of our recreational facilities,” the supervisor said. “If you look at the whole purpose of the Coastal Plan, the (California Coastal Commission) folks will tell you that residential is a key component of that. We have to keep a balance of residential, commercial and recreational interests.”

One of the recreational pastimes that many who live in the Marina enjoy is boating. Slip fees have increased over the last several years, and a group of angry boat owners feel they are being pushed aside in order to make room for larger vessels.

“We can’t expect any leadership from anyone at the county level on this, including the supervisor,” said Andrew Bessette of the Marina Boat Owners Association.

The supervisor reiterated that it is his job to seek a variety of uses of the beachside community and not for only a specific vocal interest group.

“This isn’t just (development and boating critics’) backyard,” he asserted. “This is the county’s and the state’s backyard, and this cannot survive on residential only.

“They have every right to complain, and I listen to some of them,” Knabe continued. “Some don’t seem to want any development because if you get development, people will come, and some people are used to having their own little world out here.”

Many boat brokers say the market has been trending towards larger vessels and Beaches and Harbors reports that the smaller slips have the highest vacancy rates.

Still, Knabe believes the “crown jewel” is on its way to being burnished again.

“There are pieces of it that still need polishing and we’ve still got a long way to go,” he concluded. “But with this new comprehensive look, I think we’re on our way.”