RANCHO PALOS VERDES — The City Council, still incensed by the abrupt closure of Marineland last month, is looking at two legal avenues to put pressure on the site's new owner.
The council directed City Atty. Steve Dorsey last week to determine whether the new owner, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, might have violated antitrust laws because the Marineland closure eliminated competition for Harcourt's Sea World aquatic park in San Diego.
The council also asked the staff to draft state legislation to prevent the animals taken from Marineland--including star killer whales Corky and Orky--from being removed from California, on the ground that the state will lose tax revenue if the animals do not perform in California aquatic parks.
The whales have been moved to Sea World in San Diego and renamed. Corky is now Namu and Orky is Shamu.
Motive for Purchase
Harcourt also owns Sea World parks in Orlando, Fla., and Aurora, Ohio, and a fourth is being built in San Antonio, Tex. Council members have said they believe that Harcourt's motive in purchasing Marineland was to get animals for the San Antonio parks.
Harcourt attorney Kenneth Kramer did not respond to calls seeking comment.
Councilman Robert Ryan, who called for both measures, said he will try to find a state legislator to carry the proposal in Sacramento.
At a previous meeting, Dorsey told the council that he did not believe an antitrust case could be made against Harcourt because Marineland is a theme park comparable to Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm and other attractions, and Harcourt does not have a monopoly on such parks.
But Ryan asked him to take another look after asserting that unlike theme parks, Marineland does not have rides or an amusement park atmosphere and is actually an educational facility focusing on marine life.
The council also voted to remove the statues of a killer whale and two dolphins from the Marineland entrance after vandals broke a fin off of one of the dolphins. The statues, which were donated to the city by Harcourt, have been put in storage to prevent further damage.
Mayor Mel Hughes said the council actions are "intended to force Harcourt to recognize that they need to negotiate with Rancho Palos Verdes in good faith, particularly in regard to keeping the animal-care facility."
The animal-care center was established in 1978 to care for stranded and injured marine mammals. In the last two years, more than 250 animals were cared for there.
Center to Close
The center is still open but Harcourt has said it eventually will be shut down and the company will donate money to start another center elsewhere.
Harcourt has acknowledged that it initially just wanted to buy the two killer whales. After it bought the park, the company said, an inspection determined that $25 million in improvements would be needed to make Marineland profitable.
After closing the park, Harcourt put the 100-acre oceanfront property up for sale, saying that local opposition to the company would make it difficult for Harcourt to develop the land itself.
The council last week extended until next Jan. 25 an ordinance intended to protect public access to the coast and prevent blight by regulating the shutdown of the park. A requirement was added last week for a city conditional-use permit before any Marineland structures are demolished. A provision of the original ordinance--calling for removal of abandoned structures within two years--was taken out.
Community Correspondent Ann Johnson contributed to this story.