LONG BEACH — Jet skiers would have a place of their own under a plan to build the county's first launch ramp for the motorized water-skiing vehicles.
The ramp, which would be constructed on the beach at Granada Avenue, would be welcome news to jet skiers in Orange and Los Angeles counties, who have complained that they are unfairly restricted from beaches.
"If they open this up in Long Beach, it'll be the best thing that will happen to jet skiers. They need it," said Larry Hardy, owner of Orange County Jet Ski Inc., a dealership in Huntington Beach.
"It will be the first of its kind (in the area) and it'll make a fortune," Hardy predicted.
The City Council last week authorized the Tidelands Agency, which oversees development of shoreline projects, to solicit proposals for a jet-ski rental concession at the proposed ramp. The council did not give final approval to the project, but will discuss it again Tuesday, said Richard Miller, manager of the city's Marine Bureau.
Councilwoman Jan Hall said some people have expressed concern about jet skiers who are "uncontrolled and uncontrollable."
Some Want Jet Skis Banned
Similar concerns have brought calls to ban jet skis--or "wet bikes"-- from Hurricane Gulch, the harbor near Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro where windsurfers and jet skiers have been battling. Although officials there say a compromise has been offered to allow the jet skiers to continue operating under new rules, windsurfers had complained that a congestion of jet skis, boats, swimmers and people fishing has created a dangerous situation.
Miller said Long Beach wants to prevent that kind of situation by giving jet skiers their own launching ramp and offering safety instructions to people renting the speedy vehicles from the beach concession. "We want people to come down and recreate and enjoy it, but most importantly, go home and be able to come back to enjoy it again," Miller said.
Long Beach Lifeguard Lt. Mark Boone said, "What we're trying to do here is separate them from everybody else,"
Officials may also allow windsurfers to use the proposed ramp, but they expect it to be used primarily by jet skiers because windsurfers have greater access to other beach areas, Miller said.
The California Coastal Commission last month approved the city's request to construct the launch ramp at Granada Avenue, which could be completed by August if approved by the council Tuesday, Miller said. The site is about 300 feet from a ramp used by sailboats and windsurfers.
If the council approves a concession stand, officials will at first limit the rentals to five jet skis, Miller said.
Restricted to 5 M.P.H.
Until earlier this month, Boone said, jet skiers operated near launch ramps at the mouth of the Los Angeles River and also went as far as they could up the San Gabriel River. But a new Long Beach ordinance extends restrictions in effect on Alamitos Bay limiting jet skis to 5 m.p.h.
Jet skiers say the speed limit effectively bans them in those areas because they cannot normally operate at less than 5 m.p.h. for extended distances.
"Most of the vehicles would blow up" from overheating if driven for extended distances at low speeds, explained Pat Hulett, a San Pedro jet skier and president of the 1,100-member Class A Boating Assn.
"When you take something away, you have to give them something (back)," Boone said.
Authorities treat jet skis and other such craft as motorized vessels, governed by navigational laws. Thus they are banned from public beaches and their launching is permitted only from harbors or from private beaches with the consent of the owners, said Los Angeles County Lifeguard Capt. Gary Crum. They must also observe speed limits in the harbor, stay more than 300 yards from the shoreline and cannot be within 100 feet of a bather, Crum said.
Restricted in San Pedro
In San Pedro, the Los Angeles Harbor Department and the Department of Recreation and Parks had drafted a proposal that would have effectively banned jet skiers from Hurricane Gulch by requiring them to operate at 5 m.p.h. within 400 yards of the shore.
But after meeting earlier this month, officials modified that proposal to restrict the vessels to 5 m.p.h. within 200 yards of shore, said Toni O'Donnell, the parks department official overseeing Cabrillo Beach. Officials also plan to place additional buoys and create a lane for jet skis at the harbor.
Hulett, who worked with officials to amend the proposal, said his organization is satisfied with the compromise. Hulett said there are more than 225,000 jet skiers in Southern California and "the cities have to recognize that."
"We do have a need here," Hulett said.