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NEWS ANALYSIS : Rough Sailing Ahead Over Marina Revenues : Finance: As newly elected County Supervisor Gloria Molina looks to build county coffers, she will probably be drawn to the marina and its powerful leaseholders.

February 28, 1991|JEFFREY L. RABIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The historic election of Gloria Molina as Los Angeles County's first Latino county supervisor in more than a century is likely to mark the opening of a new and dramatically different chapter in the history of Marina del Rey.

For as Molina searches for additional revenue to support the county's financially strapped social programs, the county-owned marina is likely to be one of the first places to look.

All businesses in the marina--from boat slips to apartments, restaurants to retail stores--operate on public property leased from the county.

Although the Board of Supervisors has long considered the marina as Los Angeles County's most important piece of property, the county receives less than $20 million in rents out of more than $300 million generated annually by marina businesses.

As the county's financial woes worsen, pressure is building to boost the marina's contribution to the county's general fund, which supports social programs.

Molina spokesman Robert Alaniz said the supervisor-elect would not comment on marina matters until after she takes office next week and has had a chance to closely examine the county budget.

But during her supervisorial campaign, Molina, a Los Angeles city councilwoman and former state assemblywoman, promised to support increased funding for the county's troubled trauma centers, mental health clinics, AIDS programs, and social services.

Although she offered few specific proposals on how she intended to pay for expanded programs, Molina did recommend that the county impose a business license tax in unincorporated areas of the county, including Marina del Rey.

Molina--the first woman ever elected to the board and first Latino since 1875--may be the most independent supervisor since Yvonne Brathwaite Burke was appointed in 1979.

Burke angered Marina leaseholders by seeking to defend price controls then in effect on apartments and boat slips. Marina leaseholders, determined to defeat her, contributed to Deane Dana's successful supervisorial campaign in 1980.

Ever since it was carved out of the wetlands in the 1960s and transformed into the world's largest man-made small craft harbor, Marina del Rey has been under the sway of a group of politically powerful leaseholders who have had a close relationship with the board of supervisors and have been large campaign contributors.

Molina was clearly not their choice to replace retiring Supervisor Pete Schabarum.

Campaign contribution reports show that the preferred candidate among the major players in the Marina was Republican Sarah Flores, a longtime Schabarum aide. Her contributors included Abraham M. Lurie, the Marina's largest leaseholder, and his Saudi Arabian partners; developers Ellis, Selden and Douglas Ring; the Marina Lessees Assn., and powerful Los Angeles attorney Richard Riordan, who is a legal consultant to the county on negotiations with the Marina leaseholders.

Partners in the proposed Playa Vista development, adjacent to the Marina, also backed Flores.

When Flores failed to win a place in a runoff election earlier this month, state Sen. Art Torres became the favorite of some Marina interests. He received contributions from Lurie's Saudi associates, from developer Jona Goldrich, and from some of the partners in the Playa Vista project. Riordan also checked in again as a major backer, giving at least $20,000 to Torres.

Molina was not a recipient of the leaseholders' largess to any significant degree, although she did receive $5,000 from Riordan and $1,250 from Allan Kotin, an economics consultant to the county on marina matters.

When Molina is sworn in on March 8, she will join fellow liberal Democrats Ed Edelman and Kenneth Hahn in ending a decade of Republican dominance of the nation's largest county government.

The transfer of power comes at a critical time in the marina's history.

During Molina's first term, the board will be faced with far-reaching decisions on:

* Construction of Playa Vista, a vast city-within-a-city, on land adjacent to the marina, including some unincorporated county land. Intensive high-stakes negotiations are in progress behind closed doors between county officials and the lead developer, Maguire Thomas Partners, over plans to construct a new marina as part of the vast, multibillion-dollar project. But the new harbor can only be built if the county agrees to allow construction of a new channel across county land.

* Sale of long-term leases on marina properties to foreign investors. The board may be asked to approve Lurie's plan to sell virtually all of his remaining marina interests to an investment group headed by billionaire Saudi Arabian businessman Abdul Aziz Al Ibrahim, a brother-in-law of King Fahd. The deal, which has stalled recently, would give the Saudi investors complete control of long-term leases on three hotels, two apartment complexes, office buildings, shops, restaurants and more than 1,000 boat slips in the marina.

* Long-delayed plans to intensively redevelop the marina into a more densely packed community with more residential units, hotels, restaurants, shops and offices.

* Conversion of aging apartment buildings to condominiums, presumably at large profit to the leaseholders.

* And efforts by the leaseholders to obtain long-term extensions of their leases.

In addition, Molina will have the right to appoint a new member of the county's Small Craft Harbor Commission, an advisory body that oversees the marina.

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