An open forum about Marina del Rey recently included discussions about the history and potential of the Marina and its relationship with the greater West- side. The Marina is sometimes referred to as the “sixth city” on the Los Angeles Westside and considered the “jewel” in Los Angeles County’s jurisdiction.

The open forum took place Friday, January 19th, at The Regency Club in Westwood and was sponsored by the Westside Urban Forum.

Forum panelists discussed:

— the need for a strategic plan and vision to develop the Marina as a visitor-serving and recreational area;

— balancing new development with upgrading existing development;

— the need for public transport and bike paths to cut down on the use of personal vehicles in the Marina; and

— upgrading public amenities by the County and the cleanup of environmental areas such as the Oxford Basin east of Washington Boulevard.

Panelists included Susan Cloke, chair of the Marina del Rey Design Control Board; Steve Napolitano, field deputy to Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, who represents the Fourth District, which includes Marina del Rey; and David Levine, president of the Marina Lessees Association, who stepped in to take developer Doug Ring’s place at the last minute.

The panel moderator was James A. Fawcett, director of Marine Science and Policy Research with the Sea Grant Program at USC, and faculty member in the Public Policy Program of USC’s School of Policy, Planning and Development.

Fawcett was also the chief of planning for the County of Los Angeles Department of Beaches and Harbors before his retirement.

Marina del Rey is considered the largest man-made harbor in the world, and was built on unincorporated Los Angeles County property by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the late 1950s and early 1960s, at the request of county officials.

It was envisioned as a recreational boat harbor for public use.

Developers came in during the 1960s to lease individual property parcels from the county for development purposes.

Fawcett asked Napolitano to give Knabe’s view on the Marina.

According to Napolitano, Knabe believes the Marina is lacking a strategic plan vision and needs management direction aimed at visitor-serving development, and that the County Board of Supervisors is the ultimate decision maker.

Napolitano, responding to Fawcett’s question, said that Knabe wants a balanced approach to Marina redevelopment, with input from the public, the Marina del Rey Design Control Board, County Regional Planning, and the County Board of Supervisors.

Asked by Fawcett to characterize the state of the Marina, Cloke said the subject of balanced growth delineates the essential conflict surrounding Marina development.

The Marina is a tremendous revenue generator for the entire county, but the Marina is a “one and only,” and it shouldn’t be developed as “just another piece of real estate,” said Cloke.

Cloke said the entire Design Control Board would like the Marina developed as a recreational resort and development, to attract a multibillion-dollar tourist economy.

We have something in the Marina we don’t have anywhere else in the city, and we would like to see it developed as “the best Marina it can be,” said Cloke. “At this time, the Marina is not being developed as a recreational resort/development, and once it is, we will find it to be as busy (with tourists) as Santa Monica.”

Developers are changing the Marina, and Fawcett asked Levine about his view of the developers and Marina lessees.

Levine said a balanced approach is being taken, with new units generating additional revenue for the county, but that not everything needs to be new; it needs upgrading and refurbishing of existing dwellings and anchorages.

Anchorages are being built for the next century, not the last one, and larger boat slips are required to attract the boaters of today to the Marina, said Levine.

Regarding upgrading, Levine said that 846 units of a project in Basin A are being upgraded, while only 120 new units are being built.

There is an articulation of a new vision, with upgrading balanced with new development, and upgrading encourages a greater investment interest in the Marina, Levine said.

Saying that portions of the Marina look old and tired, Fawcett asked Napolitano what the Board of Supervisors could do about it.

Napolitano replied that a number of the old 40-year leases have now come up for extension negotiations, and that Stan Wisniewski, director of Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors, has talked to many current leaseholders to facilitate lease extension renegotiations.

Without lease extensions, there would be no interest by developers to finance upgrades and refurbishments, Napolitano said.

Asked by Fawcett if Knabe is supported by the other members of the Board of Supervisors, Napolitano said there is full support, as shown by the issuance of Requests for Proposal (RFPs) by the Board of Supervisors for new projects in the Marina.

When Fawcett observed that the new project review process needs to be speedier, Napolitano said that with a new procedure put into place by the Board of Supervisors, applicants for new projects can now apply to the County’s Regional Planning Department to begin an environmental review process earlier, and then go to the Design Control Board, rather than going first to the Design Control Board, as in the past.

Levine said it is also important that the county upgrade and refurbish public amenities, since they control that process, and the Board of Supervisors and the Design Control Board are all interested in this. He cited the Oxford Basin, and “the eyesore that is Pan Pacific Park.”

Cloke said the Oxford Basin, south of Washington Boulevard, is a storm sewer drain and a “de facto bird sanctuary,” which drains into the Marina channel and degrades water quality.

Fawcett also spoke about the west side of the Marina being residential, and he asked what the Design Control Board could do about the east side of the Marina, near Lincoln Boulevard.

Cloke said that she thinks of the Marina in its entirety, although there are different zones and uses, and that the key is to make it easier finding the way to get to and around in the Marina. She noted that there are no curb addresses for visitors to easily identify where they are or where they are going.

Sprucing up of two “sad-looking” hotels and some sort of public transport to attract visitors to the Marina was brought up by Fawcett.

Cloke responded that the Board of Supervisors and the Design Control Board need to have the same vision, because differing visions would continue to keep the two entities “at loggerheads.”

Cloke said she believes the Marina water taxi is a good idea, as are other forms of public transport, but the main idea is to make the transport “an event” in itself, and part of the enjoyment of getting around the Marina.

The water taxi enjoyed an 80 percent increase in use this past year, and there are plans to expand the shuttle in the future, said Napolitano.

Each project should have a recreational aspect built in, said Cloke, adding that the proposed Marriott Hotel at Marina Beach (Mothers Beach) is the wrong hotel for that site because it is not a tourist hotel, but designated as “a place to stay until you finish a local project and then leave.”

The proposal has already been before the Design Control Board and the Board of Supervisors and there is another Marriott Hotel directly across the street, Cloke said.

The county spends many years in negotiations with developers before anyone in the public or entities such as the Design Control Board or the public knows the details, Cloke asserted.

The deal is struck in that process, and then the developer must come before the Design Control Board and is asked to include specific amenities for public use, she said.

Napolitano countered Cloke’s statement, saying that the “business behind closed doors” allegation is not true, and that the Design Control Board should be able to view these negotiations at the same time as the Small Craft Harbor Commission, but that this decision is up to the Small Craft Harbor Commission.

Levine said that the amount of development in the Marina is far less than that in the City of Los Angeles area surrounding the Marina, and that lessees in the Marina are held up to a much higher and sometimes onerous standard than the developers in the city.

Levine said he understands that a vision is needed for public amenity areas, but that leaseholds surrounding these public areas should have an increased momentum.

Fawcett also discussed the Marina del Rey Local Coastal Plan (LCP), saying it is more like a zoning plan and is difficult to use.

During public questions, Don Klein, president of the Coalition to Save the Marina, reiterated that the original intent of use for the Marina was for boating and recreational purposes.

Klein said the real problem is that the LCP has still not been reviewed by the California Coastal Commission and that the county seems to have no interest in moving forward with the LCP update.

Another speaker suggested that bringing regattas and international boating activities to the Marina would automatically generate its own excitement.

He also said there is no place for mega-yachts (over 100 feet) to moor at the Marina.

Levine said the Marina previously had 565 boat slips with an average 28 feet in length, but now there are 319 slips with an average of 38 feet.

The smallest boat slips have the most vacancies, Levine said.

Levine said that ground rent from the Marina generates 52 percent of every dollar that goes toward health services in Los Angeles County, and there is a balance of larger interests of county residents and the upgrading of visitor uses in the Marina.

One member of the public noted that Marina del Rey is not a city and the residents don’t have any rights or responsibilities in running it.

“The only comparison I can make with the Marina is the City of Vernon, where the city is run by a public landlord in the same process,” the speaker said.

DeDe Audet, president of the Venice Neighborhood Council, observed that there are no schools, hospitals or cemeteries in the Marina, and that there is a dependence on the surrounding communities for those services.

The traffic all goes through Venice, which places an unfair burden, and the Marina should be held to a higher standard because it doesn’t provide any of those services, said Audet.

The Westside Urban Forum is described by members as a “venue for free and open discussion and debate about land use issues that affect livability on the Westside of Los Angeles.”