Plans by a major leaseholder at Marina del Rey to replace 154 small-boat slips with larger slips has a group of small-boat owners concerned that they will eventually be squeezed out of the county-owned but privately operated small-craft harbor.
County officials are also concerned about the future of small-boat owners in Marina del Rey. But they point to contracts that allow private operators to build any size slips and to market conditions that indicate a greater demand for larger boat slips.
The trend toward larger boat slips is evident at two nearby harbors: San Pedro, where there are only a handful of slips for boats under 30 feet long, and Long Beach, where 40 small slips are being replaced with 25 larger slips.
"It may be a fact of life," said Herbert J. Strickstein, a member of the Los Angeles County Small Craft Harbor Commission.
Reducing Total Slips
Far West Management Corp., which holds the master lease for a 297-slip anchorage called Villa del Mar Marina on Marquesas Way in Marina del Rey, recently notified the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors that it intends to rebuild its marina so that nearly all slips under 30 feet are eliminated. The reconfiguration would reduce the total number of slips from 297 to 216. The majority of the new slips would be for boats between 30 and 40 feet long.
County officials say existing leases allow leaseholders to redesign marinas without county approval and that leaseholders are not required to provide any specific size slips.
Far West, however, does need Coastal Commission approval. A spokesman for Far West said the company expects the approval to be routine and has issued 30-day eviction notices to boat owners with small slips. The company hopes to begin construction in mid-November and to complete the project by April.
A spokesman for the Coastal Commission said Far West's application has not been reviewed but is tentatively scheduled to be discussed when the commission meets Nov. 15-18 in Marina del Rey.
Jerry Rowley, president of the Pioneer Skippers Boat Owners Assn., said he intends to oppose the application.
"We're going to fight it," Rowley said. "I'm not at liberty to discuss on what grounds. We do not want to tell the owner in advance of our argument."
Although Rowley would not discuss the basis for his opposition, he and other small boaters in the past have complained that because Marina del Rey was built with federal, state and local bond issues, the county has an obligation to make it available to the public at a "fair and reasonable cost."
The small-boater owners have also argued that county leases call for master leaseholders in the marina to receive only a "fair and reasonable return" on their investments.
Since the Board of Supervisors began allowing major increases in slip fees in 1984, and completely deregulated rates in 1987, boaters have seen slip fees in the 18 privately operated anchorages in Marina del Rey increase from an average $6.46 per linear foot to the current $9.65 per linear foot.
"They passed a reasonable level of profits eight years ago," Rowley said. "At $4 a linear foot, there's no way no one wouldn't make any money."
Until slip fees started climbing, there were no vacancies in Marina del Rey, one of the most popular marinas in the state because of its proximity to Los Angeles, housing and numerous restaurants and nightclubs, according to county officials.
Vacancies soared to an all time high in February, 1988, reaching 5.3% of the marina's 5,265 total slips. Of the 282 vacant slips that month, 277 were for boat slips 35 feet long and smaller.
Some of those vacancies can be attributed to the winter, when many owners take their boats out of the water. But Rowley said higher rates are also driving out small-boat owners, who are now forced to take their boats to the marina on trailers or store them in dry docks.
"They are killing boating," Rowley said of the marina operators. "People usually start out with small boats and then move up. But when new young people are not coming into boating because they can not afford the boat slips, there are not going to be any new boaters."
This month, the vacancy rate has dropped to 2.8%, or 145. Most of the vacancies from February were filled by boats 26 to 35 feet long, so that the number of slips available for boats that size dropped from 129 in February to 38 this month. For slips 18 to 25 feet long, vacancies dropped from 148 in February to 107 this month.
This month's figures show no vacancies for boats over 36 feet long.
David A. Canzoneri, a spokesman for Far West, and other marina operators point to the high vacancy figures for small boats as justification for replacing the smaller slips with larger ones.
"More and more people are wanting larger slips," Canzoneri said. "If there was not a demand, there would be no logic to having larger slips."