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War Over Marina Del Rey Remake

Mothers Beach in Marina del Rey: Developers are drooling at the thought of building luxury complexes on its longtime parking lot.
PHOTO BY TED SOQUI

Think you're fighting a monster development next door? Wondering what sort of math lets a developer of a big retail and housing development claim he's not attracting any new car trips to the streets by you?

The people of Marina del Rey feel your pain and then some.

"You hear about communities that are fighting one big project — well, here we have 17," says David Barish, a Marina resident. "It's unheard of."

For decades, Marina residents, environmentalists and boaters who love the relaxed vibe on the water have skirmished with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the landlord that lucratively leases out the famed public land called Marina del Rey.

The marina is 400 acres of shoreline curling around 400 acres of saltwater, protected by jetties from the Pacific Ocean.

But in 1996, the California Coastal Commission approved a planning document that led to new development. Marina fans and dwellers grew deeply frustrated as the public land in the low-key boat haven was put up for lease to private developers to erect luxurious restaurants and high-end residential developments.

The 1996 plan said development in the sleepy, family-oriented community could eventually add 2,044 new residential units, 505 more hotel rooms, 1,323 restaurant seats and 273,741 square feet of commercial space. The multitude of projects amounted to a new mini-city.

Most of it hasn't been built — yet. But the fight has grown so bitter that county politicians and Westside activists and neighbors no longer agree on the basic facts in hundreds of pages of approved and proposed land-use documents, or what issues should be debated — or even what was authorized by the Coastal Commission in 1996.

Resident Nancy Marino, co-director of We Are Marina del Rey, says "D-Day" is Nov. 3. That's when the California Coastal Commission is slated to take up three complex land-use proposals in the marina.

"It's so complicated, it's very hard for people to understand what's going on," says Barish, also of We Are Marina del Rey, which has waded through bulky documents and hired a traffic expert who says the county's traffic projections are way off.

" 'Save the whales!' — that's a lot easier to understand than land-use regulations," Barish says. In essence, "The whole marina is being redeveloped."

According to Barish, one key to what is unfolding today is an amendment made to the county's 1996 Local Coastal Plan, which governs the kinds of activities, buildings and spaces allowed in the marina.

"The county got a lot more development at the expense of recreation, and now they're going back for what they didn't get in 1996," he says. "We're moving away from a small-craft recreation to a luxury retail and living community."

He contends that the changes before the Coastal Commission Nov. 3 could mean the elimination of about 7 acres of open space and lifting of a previous cap on traffic in the marina — a congested area that feeds much of its traffic onto busy Lincoln Boulevard.

Although it's all public land, Barish says, "They're displacing a middle-income community; they're displacing small, affordable boating." He slams the Board of Supervisors as having "an inherent conflict of interest in this process, because they're the co-applicant — and also the decision maker."

Yet Santos Kriemann, director of the county Department of Beaches and Harbors, and Michael Tripp, principal planner for the county Department of Regional Planning, insist no sweeping change is coming. They say the four projects covered by the amendment add only 390 new apartment units, and the plan actually adds 10 acres of new parkland.

Tripp and Kriemann say the county is simply hoping the Coastal Commission will agree to let it move parking lots to locations closer to public recreation areas — such as Chase Park and popular Mothers Beach.

"We're asking to move some of that density around — into more appropriate locations," Kriemann says. Barish counters, "The county is playing a shell game ... to take away more public land for private developers in the name of public benefits — which do not really exist." Mothers Beach parking lot is worth a fortune if developed.

Kriemann says his department cares a lot about the views of the locals, even adopting a "core value" in February of being open to different opinions about the marina. Local ideas "make your project make it better — they make you rethink things," he says.

Proof that L.A. County officials are sensitive to local fears, he says, was a decision to remove a hotly disputed hotel from the county's list of planned projects.

He's frustrated that activists "oppose all 17" county projects (although currently the county plans only 15) approved in 1996.

But critics say a big problem is that L.A. county officials have avoided assessing the real impact of all 17 projects, taken together, upon the marina, its residents and the famously traffic-clogged Westside.

County Supervisor Don Knabe, for example, could not tell L.A. Weekly how many apartment renters would lose their housing while developers who lease the land from landlord L.A. County renovate several properties. Knabe says Marina del Rey renters will get alternative housing for the same rent. "That's the deal," he promises.

But a current resident of Villa Venetia, a property being renovated and renamed Marina Breakwater, says that's not the deal at all — rents have increased and not everyone was guaranteed space.

Marc Saltzberg, who lives in Marina Peninsula — a tiny sliver of land squeezed between the county-controlled marina acreage and the ocean — got involved after reading the county's traffic study by Raju Associates Inc., which claims, in essence, that there will be no additional traffic from the slew of proposed projects.

But Saltzberg says Raju did not study the obvious: What happens when new residents drive outside the neighborhood and onto arterials such as badly stressed Lincoln Boulevard or Pacific Avenue, the key north-south artery on the Peninsula.

"How can they defend that? How can they be thinking straight? It just blew me away," he says. "People should be concerned" about road, parking, school and water impacts outside the county's marina land if the Board of Supervisors builds its 17 projects.

In the last several weeks, Saltzberg, a Democratic party activist, has zigzagged neighborhoods west of Robertson Boulevard, asking groups to demand that L.A. County study the broader impacts.

Eight neighborhood and community councils — as far east as South Robertson and as far north as Pacific Palisades — have approved motions of varying intensity.

"We're not so much fighting Marina del Rey, it's that the county needs to be responsible [for its impacts]," says Janet Turner, chairwoman of the Pacific Palisades Community Council. "If the county is feeling that it needs to proceed with so many major developments to come up with revenue, who knows what they're going to next?"

Venice Neighborhood Council President Linda Lucks says of Marina del Rey, "We feel like it's a cash cow for the county. They're raising revenue ... with no regard for the surrounding communities. It's just really sad what they've done to that property."

When Supervisor Knabe talked about Marina del Rey recently, he didn't mention the sea air and calming effect of boats bobbing up and down. He spoke of an "asset."