OXNARD — When Lyn Krieger was hired as the Channel Islands Harbor's first director in November, she found herself at the center of a lengthy and heated controversy.
A highly criticized $170-million harbor redevelopment plan has sat dormant since early this year after officials concluded that the project's environmental impact report failed to address concerns about traffic and improper land use.
Now Krieger will face her toughest challenge.
Later this month, she will consult with tenants, residents and business owners in an effort to devise a new redevelopment plan that would preserve the harbor's peace and beauty, while ensuring its economic viability. The county-owned facility currently generates about $6 million to $7 million a year.
"In the next three weeks we're going to talk to everyone we can get our hands on so that we can get a real sense of what the people here want," Krieger said.
Although they acknowledge she has a tough job ahead of her, county officials and harbor merchants believe Krieger is up to the task.
A former deputy city manager of Stockton, a city that owns two marinas, Krieger comes to the harbor with 20 years of experience in land-use planning, property development and finance.
"She's had a lot of leadership experience, particularly with marinas," county Supervisor John K. Flynn said. "She has a good business understanding and knows how to bring people together."
The original 1995 harbor redevelopment plan--which was to be carried out over 20 years--included 140 condominiums, a 200-room hotel, an aquarium, visitors center and other tourist attractions.
The plan was opposed by many harbor interest groups, who complained that some projects, particularly the aquarium, would bring the large crowds as well as increased traffic and noise they wanted to avoid.
But several harbor tenants, residents and service groups credit Krieger for her willingness to listen to their concerns.
"She has been a tremendous breath of fresh air," said Bill Higgins, general manager of the Channel Islands Beach Community Services District. "She has already made a real effort to get the community's input. It's very encouraging because she is a real straight shooter."
"She's a lot more open to working with businesses to make the harbor successful," agreed Susan O'Brien, marketing director of Channel Islands Marketing Inc.
O'Brien said that Krieger has already approved two new plans developed by her marketing group, one for a Civil War battle reenactment scheduled for late August and a one-day extension of the Parade of Lights during the Christmas holidays.
However, while harbor tenants are enthusiastic about Krieger's approach thus far, they know her biggest hurdles are still to come.
"She's been here a short time, so she doesn't have a track record," said Richard Fairchild, owner of the Anacapa Boatyard. "But she's got a can-do attitude,"
Last year, the county split the parks and harbor into separate departments, weaning the parks of a roughly $1.2-million subsidy that comes from harbor revenues. That money eventually will be transferred back to the harbor for repairs and renovations at the 32-year-old facility.
But the harbor's problems are complex.
Some believe that it has suffered financially because of new commercial development in Oxnard along the Ventura Freeway. Others think the harbor, which lacks a major anchor tenant, is simply antiquated and needs to be updated.
But most agree on one point: The harbor needs to develop a central gathering place as well as walking paths to make it more accessible and attractive to the public.
"We need to create developments that are pleasurable to walk around," Flynn said. "What we have is great, but it's not quite enough."
As she looked out her harbor office window that faces the Pacific Ocean last week, Krieger acknowledged that she has her work cut out for her.
"It's going to be difficult to please everybody," she said. "We want to preserve while we develop, and that's a very narrow space to walk in. We also have a lot of physical repair to do [at the harbor] and we don't have the money to fix it all at once, so it's hard to know what to do first."
In her eight-month tenure as the harbor's director, Krieger can point to some incremental, but significant improvements. For example, she has expanded the number of recreational activities at the harbor by approving kayak rentals, sailboat charters, bike rentals and electric boat rentals.
In addition, after studying other successful harbors, Krieger has hired consultants to help develop financial, maintenance and renovation priorities for the aging facility.
After consulting with tenants and residents this month, harbor officials plan to hold public hearings in September and October to present a rough plan to the public. Krieger hopes a new proposal will be ready for officials to consider by the end of the year.
The county Board of Supervisors, California Coastal Commission and city of Oxnard must all approve the redevelopment plan before it can go forward.
"I'm not sure how much of that plan will be left after we complete the process of evaluating the harbor," Krieger said.