New Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors Deputy Director Gary Jones presented information on his professional background and spoke about his role with the department at the Marina Affairs Committee meeting Wednesday, November 18th.
The Marina Affairs Committee is one of the committees of the LAX Coastal Area Chamber of Commerce.
Meeting attendees told Jones that they are concerned about delays in getting development projects completed and the general “stagnation” of the Marina as it relates to businesses being successful.
Jones, who began his position in late August, is responsible for the asset management and planning divisions with a staff of 28 people.
On the asset management side, he oversees the day-to-day property management, negotiations and leases. On the planning department side, the staff is responsible for planning in the Marina and on county-operated beaches along the coast, said Jones.
Jones previously served with the City of San Diego’s real estate department for almost nine years and was responsible for the asset management operation. San Diego has a varied portfolio that includes Sea World, hotels in Mission Bay, marinas, museums, Balboa Park, cultural operations and other interests, he said.
Jones originally came from England in 1998, where he started out in real estate management including residential, commercial and business operations, and he holds a master’s degree in that field.
Jones said he was hired by Beaches and Harbors Director Santos Kreimann to put in place procedures and processes. He added that there are a lot of projects at various stages in Marina del Rey.
“It’s necessary to continue to foster a good relationship with lessees and developers that we’re working with to provide all we can within the framework of approvals, permitting, and the necessary bureaucracy we have to deal with in California,” he said.
“We’ve been working closely with the California Coastal Commission (CCC) in an approach to six pipeline projects that require an amendment to the Local Coastal Program (LCP), and we are working on an approach between the county and the CCC on how to proceed,” Jones continued.
“We have submitted the department’s response to the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning regarding the existing LCP within the last month, and those comments will be reviewed by Regional Planning and their own comments will be added, after which they will transmit the information to the CCC by early next year.
“We’re also working on a ‘map and text amendment’ that is basically an aggregate amendment to the LCP that addresses areas of documentation needing to be amended for projects to proceed,” Jones said.
The last component is a longer-term planning process that will take place in approximately five years to address the needs of the Marina and those leaseholds that are approaching the period where they are “running down the clock” on their lease terms, he said.
A project such as the Bay Club on Parcel 8 on Tahiti Way that proposes to refurbish apartments and dock space has come to the end of the approval process. It is expected to go before the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, possibly next month, said Jones.
He said that prior to his appointment, Beaches and Harbors had incorporated various concerns from residents about a number of new developments planned, resulting in a number of renovation projects instead.
Jones noted that there are a number of challenges, including projects in the Marina that have been lingering many years.
“We are attempting to put a framework in place to address those, to do whatever we can,” he said. “There are some hindrances outside of our control, but we’ll do what we can to assist the developer or lessee.”
The deputy director said there are obvious problems with the economy, accompanied by a lack of available financing, and the department has talked to lessees and developers about addressing the issues.
“It may mean we have to restructure some of the option agreements regarding plans that were put in place a number of years ago, that are no longer possible,” he said.
“It’s not the fault of the lessee or the county, it’s the unfortunate reality. We are being receptive to positions that lessees and developers are in, seeing what we can do to ensure that projects do continue, but putting in place revised terms that still protect the county’s interests for the long-term.”
Jones said that the county has its own budget problems and officials are approaching that time of the year when the county looks at its budget for the fiscal year, which starts in July.
“I’m surprised by the amount of time people have been willing to give me — lessees, developers, stakeholders, residents — in terms of educating me on the history of the Marina and how we have gotten to where we are today,” Jones said.
“On my part, that’s the most important. Real estate is all about location and it’s no different in government. So it’s been a whirlwind, but very educational.”
Asked by a meeting attendee about the status of Fisherman’s Village redevelopment, Jones said that he, Kreimann and the lessee will be meeting in early December to discuss the situation, and that hopefully there would be something to report after that meeting.
Another speaker said, “It’s a shame because Fisherman’s Village used to be a wonderful place, and now it’s like a ghost town, except for the very popular concerts that are held there.”
Jones referred to the pipeline projects in the Marina that are believed to be at a certain stage, saying that “it’s not in anyone’s interest to make them wait for a complete overhaul” because the projects are too far along in the process to be halted.
The county will take on the responsibility to make the proposed LCP amendments. Beaches and Harbors will go to Regional Planning and the Regional Planning Commission, and then the Board of Supervisors, followed by the Coastal Commission.
After one attendee said it seemed to be an arbitrary judgment that those pipeline projects would proceed, Jones said that the decision was made in collaboration with a number of different people over a period of time.
Another speaker asked how much money that Beaches and Harbors retains from the amount that is generated by the Marina and used throughout the rest of the county, questioning who funds the projects in Marina del Rey.
Jones explained that the county doesn’t provide hard cash to developers to build their projects. “County input is the value of the land equity, and the county’s contribution to a project may be to tell a hotel developer that the first ten years of the hotel’s life is half the rent,” he said.
“People that have been in the Marina from day one have seen what effect this has. At first, the value of the land didn’t seem worth anything, then it became prime real estate, with people clamoring to get access to it.
“It is something we consider when we talk about our budget. The Marina is seen as the economic generator of the county,” Jones said.
Another speaker asked, “What about all the objectors that stand up on the street and yell about development, and here we are trying to make this development something more progressive than in the past?”
Chamber member Donna Lasman said she has been talking to member businesses and wanted to know what possibilities there are for reforming and streamlining the process.
“As I think about all these developments that have been there for I don’t know how long, I’m thinking to myself, candidly, this is not going to happen in my lifetime. Meanwhile all of these businesses are thwarted because of the stagnation that is occurring here,” she said.
“As a representative of the chamber and in the interest of supporting our businesses, what possibilities are there for reforming and streamlining this process so that the Marina can get that upgrade that it really needs to attract more tourists, interest and revenue for the businesses, and add quality of life for the residents that also enjoy living here? I recognize there has to be a balance,” said Lasman.
Other speakers said they’ve been in the area 20 to 40 years or more, and while projects are said to be underway, there have been tremendous delays. They asked if there is a game plan to reduce that time period.
Jones said that inherent in the approval process, particularly the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process, there is a certain timeframe, a built-in review period, including public hearings, and developers generally know to include that delay in their spreadsheets.
“We are responsible to ensure that if we get to a stage where there are any other delays that aren’t necessarily process delays, we have a way to minimize, to engage stakeholders and listen to people. We don’t always agree with lessees because we look at it from the county’s position,” he said.
“Santos (Kreimann) was very clear that we are not to avoid those situations. That only adds to delay and stagnation. We have to go out and engage and go through the process, and I think that’s the right way to do it,” Jones said.
Lasman suggested a joint commission of all the people involved in a development at the very beginning to avoid problems along the way that can stall the projects.
“Real estate is all about location,” Jones said. “Bear in mind that you are right up against the City of Los Angeles, seeing development going on. It’s not the county’s responsibility, but it affects the streets and roads of businesses and residents here, so when development in the Marina comes forward, those developments have impacts.”
A final speaker said that an upgrade of the Marina has to happen, and if this is going to be the “pearl that attracts visitors,” something has to be here to do that.
Jones pointed out that this supervisorial district represented by Supervisor Don Knabe is very close to other districts, and there are a number of different views of how the Marina should be, making it a very complicated situation.
In conclusion, Jones said that the Department of Beaches and Harbors “really cares about the Marina, and takes pride in that.
I’ve not always seen that in my career, and it’s very refreshing.”