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Welcome Wave at the Marina

At last, the supervisors move for a fair return for the taxpayers

April 17, 1997

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors hasn't been known as a forward-thinking and responsive group of elected officials. This week it did act with a responsiveness that we can only hope will surface more often.

The board voted unanimously to adopt a redevelopment plan for 800-acre Marina del Rey that will include competitive bidding for the lucrative leases to marina facilities. And for the first time, the supervisors also adopted safeguards to ensure that the financially strapped county receives a greater return from its ownership of the small-craft harbor.

But right up to the vote, the odds-on money was on a continuation of the cozy status quo: A small group of leaseholders--loyal and often generous contributors to each supervisor--sought extensions of 10 to 20 years on their marina leases even though most of the existing 60-year agreements do not begin to expire until 2020. While these developers--who in the 1960s built the harbor's privately owned apartments, boat slips, hotels, restaurants, shops and offices on prime public land--have profited handsomely on their investments, the public has realized an appallingly low return on its land holdings. The marina is the world's largest man-made small-craft harbor and perhaps the county's most valuable single resource. With this week's action, the supervisors have now adopted safeguards to ensure that the county finally receives a greater and more reasonable return for the taxpayers.

It was an obviously needed change, but one that was long and hard in coming. Over the years, supervisors--most of them not on the board now--had demonstrated a studied lack of interest in even learning the true market value of that resource. The county currently receives $23 million each year from marina leaseholders. As part of a 1992 Times analysis of marina finances, a prominent UCLA real estate expert said that the county should have been earning at least $50 million to $75 million. This should have been electrifying news to the stewards of a county that has swayed so close to bankruptcy. But such systematic appraisals were not part of the county's management strategy for the marina.

Supervisors Gloria Molina and Zev Yaroslavsky deserve some credit for pushing their colleagues to do what common sense and even a minimal sense of civic duty should have dictated long ago.

The board's next step should be to rethink the frightfully dense and commercial plan for marina development it adopted two years ago. Plans for this waterfront should more thoughtfully balance the public's pressing recreational needs with measured commercial development. Lease terms more favorable to Los Angeles County taxpayers will facilitate that mix. Getting there will require vigilance and determination.

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