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Marina's growth may be painful for boaters

Officials plan to accommodate new, larger craft by reducing the total number of slips. Some owners fear a loss of affordable boating.

April 10, 2010|By Rong-Gong Lin II
  • Some users fear that reduction of spaces will make recreational boating unaffordable.
Some users fear that reduction of spaces will make recreational boating… (Wally Skalij/ Los Angeles…)

Marina del Rey is the largest man-made pleasure boat harbor in the world.

But it could become a tad smaller under a Los Angeles County plan that has generated much debate in the coastal community. The county wants to reduce the number of boat slips by 476, from 4,731 to 4,255. If approved, it would mean a 23% drop in the number of boat slips at the marina since 1999.

County officials say the reductions are needed to build slips for larger boats, which are in increasing demand.

Santos H. Kreimann, the director of the county Department of Beaches and Harbors, said most of the marina's docks were built in the 1960s, but as boat construction materials have changed from wood to fiberglass, boats have become longer and wider. As a result, the county wants to accommodate the next generation of boats.

"We've heard from boat brokers -- they are requesting larger slips," said Kreimann, noting that the county plans to build 271 more dry boat storage spots as part of the plan. Officials are trying to create "a balance between the small boaters and large boaters. The boats have grown up," Kreimann said.

But making space for more bigger boats will result in taking away room for smaller boats.

Jon Nahhas, 43, an information technology consultant in Playa del Rey, is furious about those plans. Nahhas said he feared that fewer boat spaces will result in higher fees and more competition among boat owners for spots.

If the reductions in spaces occur, Nahhas said, "affordable boating is going to go away."

The dispute is one of many that is generating controversy at the marina, which was built out of an estuary and inlet in the 1950s and 1960s, funded by the county and federal governments.

County officials lease the land on Marina del Rey to private developers, generating $35 million a year in tax revenue to Los Angeles County. Funds can be redirected to uses such as law enforcement and public health.

More than a dozen projects are being considered, including a 19-story hotel, adding thousands of apartment units and building tens of thousands of square feet of shopping and restaurant space. Some worry that the buildings' height will block wind for sailboats.

Kreimann said Marina del Rey is a regional asset at risk of infrastructure deterioration if no action is taken. Meanwhile, neighboring areas within Los Angeles' city boundaries are developing, such as Playa Vista.

"As the director, I have to look around and say, 'How am I going to let this opportunity pass us by?' I have the responsibility to make sure Marina del Rey continues to be a viable community, and part of that is development," Kreimann said.

Without development, he said, "the infrastructure would deteriorate significantly, and [the] look and feel of the community would be lost," Kreimann said. "It's time to attract more investment."

David Barish, a Marina del Rey resident, contends, however, that the county has lost sight of the marina as being primarily a spot for public recreational use.

"It wasn't created for residential or commercial," Barish said. "The county is stealing public recreational land and giving it to private developers."

Barry A. Fisher, a lawyer who enjoys sculling in the marina, worries about a plan to build apartments, restaurants and stores next to Mother's Beach, which is used by kayakers.

Now, the area offers a low-key community that has "been very accommodating to people coming and going loading boats."

He was not eager to face a neighborhood full of shoppers and diners.

"It would radically change the area," Fisher said. "It'll be the frontyard of this massive project."

ron.lin@latimes.com

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