County officials are proposing an $8-million project to relocate the public boat launch on Fiji Way, drawing the ire of boaters Photo by Pat Reynolds

County officials are proposing an $8-million project to relocate the public boat launch on Fiji Way, drawing the ire of boaters Photo by Pat Reynolds

Boaters, residents expected to speak out Wednesday on controversial Marina del Rey redevelopment proposal

By Pat Reynolds

Through the years I’ve seen some pretty testy local meetings happen in Marina del Rey.

Pleading, scoffing, yelling and general theatrics have occurred in many a public testimony in these parts, and I expect there will be all of that and more at an upcoming Small Craft Harbor Commission meeting to discuss future plans for Marina del Rey — particularly surrounding the possible relocation of the public boat launch ramp on Fiji Way.

As part of its ongoing “Visioning” process for the harbor, the Los Angeles County Dept. of Regional Planning has put forth the suggestion of sliding the facility — which provides trailerable boats from all over Los Angeles access to the water — down the road into what is now Fisherman’s Village. The folks at DRP say the aim is to make Marina del Rey more connected and they want to see the harbor’s physical layout better integrated. As a means to this end, officials plan to divide Marina del Rey into four distinct sections: a residential district, a retail- and entertainment-oriented Visitor’s Row, a Mother’s Beach recreation area and a Boater’s Way.

Where the launch ramp currently sits is meant to be part of this new Visitor’s Row, with boating amenities shifting toward the southwest end of the harbor, including where Fisherman’s Village is today.

“By moving the boat launch ramp from its current location, we are able to access a site that provides the opportunity to develop the types of visitor- and resident-serving uses that are desired in the marina,” a county statement explains. “Simultaneously, relocating the boat launch ramp would also consolidate many of the boat-related services and businesses into a single area, making it easier for boaters to meet their needs in one place.”

Well, that seems simple enough — it’s right down the road after all. Noble Consultants Inc., a civil engineering firm specializing in coastal and harbor engineering that worked with the county, believes it’s very doable.

Although the proposed facility will change the direction in which boats will depart and land, according to Noble, there are not any concerns related to either direction of the winds, or flow of the tides.

Ah, but here’s the rub: lots of boaters strongly disagree with the consultants.

While the plan retains the three ramps that currently exist and attempts to meet the needs of mast-up storage — although with just 242 spaces, down from 305 — it’s the positioning of the proposed facility that has boaters crinkling their brows. Presently the ramp exists at the end of a basin, in a cul-de-sac type location, with preferable upwind launching capabilities.

“You cannot say that you’re building a launch ramp that is 90 degrees from the existing launch ramp and then make the statement that the wind direction will be the same,” said Mike Leneman, owner of Multimarine, a company that has launched thousands of boats from the ramps in Marina del Rey.

“Obviously the people that came up with this are a bunch of urban planners who have never done anything boating-wise in their lives,” Leneman said

Leneman’s concerns have been echoed throughout the boating community, many of whom are wary of a facility that would force many non-motorized sailboats and beginner boaters into a potentially precarious situation. When winds reach into the 12- to 15-knot range — fairly typical in the midafternoon — launching and landing could get dicey.

“It’s not good for anyone,” said Kent Andersson, owner of Andersson Marine, who has also spent countless hours at the ramp. “Crosswinds and all the waves from the main channel will make things difficult. For me, as a professional, I can handle it, but for the novice boater it won’t be easy. [The launch] is meant to be where it’s at. That’s why they put it there in the first place.

“But it would be fun to sit and watch the people launch their boats,” Andersson added with a grin.

Beyond the safety concerns, there are also worries about ending up with a product that is simply not as good. Though our regional planners aren’t happy with it, from a boating perspective the current location of the ramp is almost perfect by nearly all reputable accounts.

At least one member of the Small Craft Harbor Commission shares some of local boaters’ reservations about the plan to move the launch.

“I have concerns about whether this is going to denigrate the boat launch as a recreational resource,” said Small Craft Harbor Commissioner Dave Lumian. “I think right now we have a great launch ramp, and I have questions and concerns that by moving it to this new location it may denigrate the quality and the safety of the facility.”

Lumian said he is also struck by the idea of losing Fisherman’s Village as we know it. What was once considered the prime destination for tourism in Marina del Rey would, under the county’s Visioning document, become mostly storage and a parking lot. There is certainly a contingent who believes this piece of real estate holds some of the best views the harbor has to offer and that not exploiting that resource may be a costly mistake.

“For the past 45 years, Fisherman’s Village has been drawing visitors from all parts of the world,” Michael Pashaie, a partial owner of Fisherman’s Village, wrote in a letter to the L.A. County Dept. of Beaches and Harbors. “It will be a sad day if it became just a boat-launching facility.”

According to Dept. of Regional Planning officials, the preliminary cost estimate for building a new boat launch ramp hovers around $6.5 million, and additional soft costs would push the price tag over $8 million.

Where that money would come from has yet to be determined.

The Small Craft Harbor Commission meeting starts at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the meeting room at Burton Chace Park, 13650 Mindanao Way, Marina del Rey.