County plan to move boater facilities to Fisherman’s Village parcel has users worried they’ll get the short end of the deal
By Pat Reynolds
On Saturday morning in a small room with no more than a couple dozen Marina del Rey residents, members from the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning stood by to field questions and provide explanations about the Marina del Rey Visioning statement the agency released last week.
The document proposes shaking up the harbor’s existing landscape to improve traffic flow while increasing its commercial density by up to 200,000 square feet of retail and as many as 940 new hotel rooms. Changes would include moving the boat launch and boater amenities to South Fiji Way (including the spot where Fisherman’s Village stands today) and focusing retail to the north.
The county’s Visioning process has been ongoing since Gina Natoli, a supervising regional planner for the county, spoke about the future of Marina del Rey to a room full of mostly disgruntled boaters and residents in April. During that crowded meeting in a community room of the Marina del Rey Hotel, Natoli stood behind a podium, beleaguered with a flu, while anyone with an opinion lined up to tell her just how much they disliked how this redevelopment is unfolding.
That evening Natoli explained that, in essence, they were there to listen and distill. She insisted that while there had been much talk about enormous residential builds or proposals of other unwanted projects, her team was in place to hear the ideas of actual users of the grounds and, in turn, make recommendations to the next line of command.
After numerous outreach efforts — including walking tours, workshops and a website devoted to interactive idea sharing — Natoli’s team took the gathered information and recently produced a 23-page statement detailing what the future of the marina might well look like.
At this Saturday’s gathering, team members stood next to various map illustrations of the area to walk people through this geographic draft. Each map depicted different compartmentalized sections of Marina del Rey with broad labeling of what would probably exist there — a “Residential District,” “Visitor’s Row,” Mother’s Beach and finally “Boaters Way,” which probably garnered the most attention and interest.
During the Visioning outreach, there wasn’t much — if any — discussion of the public launch ramp on Fiji Way being relocated farther down the road, most likely close to where the LMU rowing facility currently sits.
Beaches and Harbors Acting Director Gary Jones said this element was a “significant proposal” and would “generate substantial comment and debate.”
At a Small Craft Harbor Commission meeting on Feb. 12, a number of boaters, including commissioner Dave Lumian, flinched at the idea. Lumian described the current area as very suitable for the service it provides, saying it’s “one of the best in Southern California” and expressed wariness that a new location would meet the same standards.
“From a boating perspective, it’s almost laughable,” Lumian said.
He described how well the current area works and that geographically it makes the most sense when it comes to launching boats. He warned that a launch ramp that is situated too close to or directly in the main channel could be a recipe for problems.
“I think that the [proposed} location has some of the highest boating traffic in the area and having to orient your boat while trying to use a boat ramp is a very tricky thing. We like to say in boating that it’s the first 20 yards and the last 20 yards that are the most difficult.”
Others openly wondered if the amount of mast-up slips would be affected. That storage facility is particularly beloved by trailer-sailors who enjoy not having to disassemble their boats each time they go out. Natoli could not definitively verify the exact numbers but said she believed that any loss would be negligible.
In addition to the boaters who cringed when they heard of this change, Michael Pashaie, co-owner of Fisherman’s Village, was also displeased. He and his partners had recently drawn up renderings (published in The Argonaut in November) of his vision for the seaside destination at the end of Fiji Way that, needless to say, did not include a public launch ramp. Flanked with a pair of attorneys at the Small Craft Harbor Commission meeting, Pashaie expressed concern that a launch ramp at Fisherman’s Village is not the best use of that stretch of property.
“I’m quite emotional about this issue,” Pashaie said. “I think there are some wonderful ideas that can be implemented in due time, however, I’m not positive that this Visioning process has really been reflective of the public comments and those of the boaters.”
He also complained that the future of Fisherman’s Village was being pulled out from under him.
“We have designed and planned for the past 13 years and spent over $2 million in architectural fees, environmental impact reports —11 types of studies” of the location where county officials now want to put the boat launch,” he said.
Pashaie, who has long held the Fisherman’s Village lease and has 13 more years left on it, went on to say that Fisherman’s Village is the perfect location for a retail center where visitors can enjoy the ambiance, vistas and nautical activity of the main channel. He said the area is iconic and to “tear it down and make it a boatyard is not very sexy or appealing.”
The future of this section of land, adjacent to where most visitors enter Marina del Rey, has been subject to the rumor mill for years, but it seems now that big change could definitely come to pass.
From the planners’ perspective, that spot is an important puzzle piece to helping Marina del Rey thrive as a regional destination.
At the Saturday gathering, Natoli spoke passionately about how establishing a “Visitor’s Row” near the entrance to the marina is of great importance for creating a sense of connectivity that Marina del Rey sorely lacks. She additionally spoke of the importance of maintaining a quality boat launch, but also said, with anguish, that the local hotels promote themselves by saying they are “only five minutes from Venice.”