In an effort to attract beachgoers to an infrequently visited stretch of Dockweiler State Beach, Los Angeles County has set up a surf-side storage program for catamaran sailboats near the oceanfront runways at Los Angeles International Airport.
About 10 sailboats have been stored at the beach for a month, and officials expect 40 to 50 more within the next few weeks. The program was approved Tuesday by the city of Los Angeles, which leases the beach from the state and contracts with the county to manage it.
Kenneth Foreman, property agent for the county's Department of Beaches and Harbors, said the program began shortly after the county approved it. "We inadvertently did not touch base earlier with the city of Los Angeles," he said.
The storage program is modeled after one at Topanga Beach, where the county has allowed owners of several dozen catamarans--twin-hulled craft connected by a trampoline--to keep their boats for the past two years. Foreman said there is a long waiting list for Topanga Beach sites, which prompted county officials to search for a second location.
Dockweiler State Beach, which extends from El Segundo to Venice, includes a county-run recreational vehicle park at the foot of Imperial Highway, a bicycle path that passes through the beach and popular sunbathing and cookout areas near several parking lots off Vista del Mar.
Relatively Desolate Spot
But the stretch near the airport runways--about half a mile from the nearest parking lot--is relatively desolate, county officials and lifeguards said. The area's inaccessibility, the absence of adjacent residential neighborhoods and the constant thunder of jets taking off from LAX make it "one of the few under-utilized beach areas in Los Angeles County," in the words of a report prepared for the Board of Recreation and Park Commissioners, the city panel that approved the storage program on Tuesday.
Portions of Dockweiler, particularly north of LAX near the Playa del Rey Lagoon, have also become known for gang problems during warm weather, police said. Sgt. John Preston, who works with the Los Angeles Police Department's gang detail, said gang members who normally frequent Venice Beach spill onto Dockweiler during summer weekends and spells of hot weather.
Last Friday night, in the midst of the recent heat wave, a group of gang members attacked two men and some women friends and stole a car at a Playa del Rey stretch of the beach, police said. When the car's owner chased them, police said he was stabbed several times. The gang members also hit another person on the head with glass bottles, police said.
County officials and lifeguards, however, said gang activity rarely spreads to other portions of Dockweiler, including the site of the new storage program. Although they acknowledge the beach is less desirable than most because of its location, they reject suggestions that the storage program was designed in part to displace gang activity.
"There wasn't a bad element there that we were trying to get rid of," said lifeguard Capt. Steve Voorhees. "We were just trying to get some use of a large portion of beach that was way under used."
Russ Carrington, who is running the storage program for the county on a one-year trial basis, said none of the boat owners have reported problems during the first month. Carrington, owner of Action Sailing and Water Sports Centers in Marina del Rey and Newport Beach, said all sailors are required to buy liability and theft insurance before they can store their catamarans.
"If you get a hundred little preppy kids playing with their catamarans, it will drive out any bad element that might be there," Carrington said. "The real problem is that it is desolate. We think this will change when we get some kids down there."
$20 Monthly Fee
Carrington charges a $20 monthly fee for each boat, with $4 of it going to the county. The storage is available only for catamarans, and boat owners must agree to a six-month contract. The county has prohibited Carrington from making any changes to the beach, meaning there are no fences, alarms or other security devices.
"All that is left on the beach is the shell--the hull, trampoline and mast," Foreman said. "All the things that make it operable will have been removed. . . . If you want to steal the boat, you will have to go through a lot of pain to do so."
Phil Gentry, a Redondo Beach sailor who has stored his catamaran at Dockweiler for several weeks, said he remains committed to the storage program despite publicity about last weekend's gang problems.
"I am going to go ahead and give it a shot," said Gentry, who had stored his boat on a trailer at his home. "It just sounded perfect. It gives you the opportunity to leave your mast up, and saves a lot of time setting up."
Gentry said he normally launches his catamaran at a public ramp in Marina del Rey, but because of crowded conditions there, it takes him nearly an hour to sail past the jetty.
"Once you get there, you are nearly worn out," he said.