RANCHO PALOS VERDES — The transfer of the popular killer whales Corky and Orky from Marineland to Sea World in San Diego has angered city officials and prompted them to impose restrictions on what the park's new owners can do if they decide to close the local landmark.
The council adopted an emergency ordinance requiring the park's owners, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, to tear down any abandoned Marineland buildings within two years if the company closes the park.
Harcourt, a publishing firm that purchased the park late last month from Hong Kong-based Warwick International, has never stated that it intends to close the park. A spokesman this week would not rule out that possibility, however, and city officials said they fear the transfer of the whales is a bad sign.
The company, based in Orlando, Fla., operates Sea World parks there and in San Diego and Aurora, Ohio.
The council meeting Monday night was called expressly to pass the new law. One city official sported a button that read "We Love Orky and Corky"; another official's button resembled an international traffic sign and had the name Sea World printed on it with a red line drawn through it.
City officials say the ordinance is intended to ensure that the 104-acre site, which affords visitors a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean and shoreline, does not become a blight on the community.
"It's to protect the city's interest," City Manager Dennis McDuffie said in an interview.
"We want to make sure that the current owners do not abandon the site and let it deteriorate and become an eyesore, and then turn around and use that as a lever on the city and City Council to build a high-density residential development down there."
The city's commercial-recreational zoning and height restrictions sharply restrict what could be built on the site.
Attendance at Marineland has been flat in recent years, and Harcourt has said the 32-year-old facility needs a face lift to boost the visitor count. But it has not divulged specific plans for the park, which is the oldest oceanarium in the country.
Edward Asper, a Sea World vice president, attended the meeting but did not address the council. Afterward, he said Harcourt is still evaluating Marineland to determine its future.
"There are no immediate plans to make any changes," he said.
Saying he and other company executives needed time to "get our feet on the ground," Asper said Harcourt could make a decision within three months on what course of action it will follow at the park. He did not rule out the possibility of closing the park.
Marineland officials have not disclosed the sale price, but Harcourt Chairman William Jovanovich told a Florida reporter that the company paid $23.4 million for Marineland.
Indication of Closure
Asper disagreed with the assertions of some council members that the transfer of Corky and Orky to San Diego nine days ago was a strong indication that Harcourt intends to close the park. The whales were transported to San Diego for the "long-term benefit of the animals," he said. The whales will be housed in larger tanks than those at Marineland and will take part in a breeding program with Sea World's three killer whales.
Asper conceded that the ill feelings voiced by council members might have been avoided if Harcourt had kept the city better informed. For example, city officials said they did not learn of the park's sale or the whale transfer until both actions were completed.
Nevertheless, Asper said, Sea World is not in the habit of telephoning "the mayor every time we are going to move an animal."