The California Coastal Commission has approved a Marina del Rey leaseholder's plan to replace nearly all his small boat slips with larger slips.
But members of the commission also said they were concerned about a statewide trend of eliminating slips less than 30 feet long at public harbors.
"The commission should and will take a long hard look at this trend," said commission Chairman Michael Wornum at a meeting in Marina del Rey. "We are serving notice now that we will look very closely at any future applicant that wants to eliminate small boat slips."
The Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors, which supported Villa Del Mar Properties Ltd.'s request to reconfigure its slips, is also concerned about the trend. Department Director Ted Reed said information is being gathered to formulate a policy on slip configuration for the entire small-craft harbor, which is publicly owned but privately operated.
Reed said he expects to make a recommendation to the county Small Craft Harbor Commission in January or February and to convene public hearings on the matter a month later.
But Jerry Rowley, president of the Pioneer Skippers Boat Owners Assn., which represents about 1,300 small-boat owners, was not encouraged by the expressions of concern.
He said the commission's decision to allow Villa Del Mar to reconfigure its slips will encourage other marina operators to replace their small slips with larger ones.
David A. Canzoneri, a spokesman for Far West Management Corp., which manages Villa Del Mar Marina, said the small slips are being replaced with larger slips to meet market demand. He cited county vacancy figures that last month showed more than 100 vacancies for small slips, while there were no vacancies among slips for boats more than 35 feet long.
Only three people, including Rowley, spoke against the project, which will involve replacing nine wooden docks containing 297 slips with seven concrete docks containing 214 slips. The majority of the new slips at Villa Del Mar Marina on Marquesas Way will be for boats between 30 and 40 feet long.
In the past, small-boat owners fighting the trend to larger slips have pointed to a section of the state Coastal Act that says: "Lower-cost visitor and recreational facilities shall be protected, encouraged and, where feasible, provided."
But in recommending approval of Villa Del Mar's application, the commission staff said in a report that although small-boat slips are being eliminated, there are other small slips in Marina del Rey available. The staff also pointed to dry dock storage as an alternative to more expensive slips.
Those provisions, coupled with the county's plan to formulate a policy on slip configuration, led the staff to conclude that the project would not hurt low-cost recreational facilities. The commission's decision was nearly unanimous, with the only opposition coming from Commissioner Charles Warren, who questioned the public benefit in reducing the number of slips.