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CITY SMART | URBAN NOTEBOOK: Reports From the Metropolitan

For Long Beach Marina, Life Is Not a Beach

As at many Southland facilities, occupancy rates have plunged. Downtown location also has drawbacks.


Walk down the sidewalk of Long Beach's downtown marina, past gangway after gangway, and the extent of its problem becomes obvious.

Whole clusters of empty slips sit there, unused. At last count, 758 of the marina's 1,800 slips are unleased, something that would have been inconceivable in California's boom years of the 1980s.

Not that struggling marinas are strictly a Long Beach problem. Southern California, where there once were 10-year waiting lists for boat slips, has been hammered by years of recession that have severely diminished the nautical inventory.

But the Long Beach marina's dilemma is the most acute of all. One of the major reasons for the large number of vacancies is the notion that the problems of city life--as in crime and violence--are just up the street.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday May 23, 1996 Home Edition Metro Part B Page 3 Metro Desk 1 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
Marina vacancies--A caption accompanying a photograph of the Long Beach Downtown Marina in Friday's Times stated the facility's vacancy rate incorrectly. The marina has a 41% vacancy rate.

"This is so close to the downtown and the riffraff," said Bruce Hazen, a marine mechanic who spends much of his time at the downtown marina. "I think people are more afraid to be here at night because of the people around here."

Long Beach officials are quick to point to the fact that, taken together, the vacancy rates in the city's two publicly run marinas are roughly equivalent to the norm these days throughout Southern California.

But it is the downtown marina that sends the average plummeting. The downtown marina has a 41% vacancy rate, while the marina at suburban, upscale Alamitos Bay has 8% vacancy. "Essentially, Alamitos Bay is full," said Ralph Cryder, director of the Parks, Recreation and Marine Department.

Among the factors cited by officials as contributing to the unease about the downtown marina is the Blue Line commuter train, which begins in downtown Los Angeles and ends in downtown Long Beach, passing through some of the toughest neighborhoods in the county along the way.

One of the destination points for the train riders is the marina, the shops of adjacent Shoreline Village and the grassy park that lines the shore.

On weekend days, trash litters the park, which has become a gathering place for transients. And the bicycle path running past the marina is usually crowded.

"It does bring in a certain element to Long Beach who come to hang out," as Chris Kozaites, a member of the city's marine advisory commission, put it.

One measure of potential trouble is the number of truants who are picked up by authorities at the marinas. In March, three truants were arrested by the Alamitos Bay marina police, while 55 were picked up in the downtown marina.

But those who work in and around the downtown marina say that it is as safe as the more desirable Alamitos Bay, and most crime statistics back up that assertion.

Doug Sandoval, the city's marine bureau manager, points to other things that have made the downtown marina less popular. Those include the need to upgrade the electrical system, the boat owners' bathrooms and the gangways to make them more attractive. Further, the boats are constantly being coated with a thin layer of black dust from a coal operation in the nearby port.

He said fencing off the marina to provide private parking would go a long way toward increasing the facility's popularity.

And, Sandoval said, there should be better signs to direct people to the nearby beach so that boat owners don't feel like they are part of a weekly tour. "There's a lot of looky-loos who come down there to the marina," he said.

Finally, Sandoval said, one of the major reasons for the marina's lack of popularity lies in how it was built, with two boats side-tied in a single slip. It was, he said, a cost-saving decision made by previous city planners that has not served well in the economic downturn.

However, there are those who like the downtown marina better than Alamitos Bay and other Southland facilities.

"For me, the main reason is access to open water," said Don Nelson, who has kept his powerboat at the marina for the last year and a half. "We can be out of the marina and heading for Catalina in five minutes."

Only time will cure the ills of the marina, Sandoval said, predicting that it will rebound when the demand for boat slips goes up again. "This is not a Long Beach issue, this is a Southern California marina issue," he said.

Meanwhile, the cash-strapped city needs to address what can be done to improve the facilities, he said.

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