Michael Bennett made his mark as a distributor of first rate instructional boating videos. When I found out that he was the skipper of a 32-foot Kettenburg sloop in Marina del Rey, I asked him if he realized that the new Local Coastal Plan for the marina would eliminate more than 800 slips for boats under 35 feet. He reacted with shock.
“That will totally undercut the starter boat market,” he said. “How will people ever graduate to bigger vessels if you eliminate the smaller slips?”
Many boaters with whom I talk have no idea that Marina del Rey will change forever if the Local Coastal Plan passed by the L. A. County Supervisors is finally approved by the California Coastal Commission.
The plan as now approved contradicts the original intent of the marina as outlined in House Document 389, which defined it mission as: “ ... making recreational harbor facilities in Santa Monica Bay available to the largest number of boatowners and potential owners in southern California at the least cost.”
It will increase congestion, by adding density while eliminating hundreds of slips and parking spaces.
Why don’t more boaters know? For my answer I met with David Barish and Nancy Marino, co-directors of the organization We Are Marina del Rey.
“The LA County Supervisors didn’t want boaters to know,” Barish told me.
“Routinely, they would pass a set of resolutions, embedding changes that they would only amplify later,” said Marino. “The advance notices about the hearings weren’t clear about what they would cover so few people bothered to show.”
“The changes were passed piecemeal, and then combined after the fact,” said Barish.
“If the supervisors had truly wanted boater involvement in the LCP, they would have written the 108,000 boaters in L.A. County who pay taxes each year to the county,” Marino said.
Barish told me that he had been researching the history of Marina del Rey.
“Many people don’t know that the public funded marina was established by a 1956 ballot measure as a small craft harbor for the benefit of boaters,” he said. “Hotels and restaurants were secondary.”
The California Coastal Act puts a premium on maintaining access to the coast for recreational purposes
“To meet those provisions of the Coastal Act, the supervisors have broadly redefined recreation to include hotels,” said Marino. “They can’t even fill the rooms that are here now. They’re at a 75 percent occupancy rate.”
Marino said that calling Marina del Rey's parking lots underutilized as an excuse to put buildings on them, has become a mantra with no basis in fact.
"When there's any recreational event down here, parking is hard to come by," she said.
The loss of affordable small boat slips is part of a longtime trend, with more than 500 eliminated in recent years. Not only will hundreds of additional small slips be filled in, but many small slips will be supersized to accommodate bigger boats. Supposedly, there is a shortage in large slip availability.
Barish has an accounting background and the numbers weren't adding up.
“When I looked, the data didn’t smell right,” he told me.
Upon analysis, he concluded that it was faulty. First, the county didn’t count end ties that usually hold the biggest boats. Secondly, the county misstated the percentage of vacancies in the bigger slips, treating the big slip vacancy rate as a percentage of all slips, rather than of the big slips themselves. When the numbers were corrected, there proved to be no shortage of big slips. Finally, the data about the increase in boat size is obsolete. It dates from before the recession and the raise in gas prices.
When I spoke with Ken Raymond, chairman of the Halibut Derby, about how expensive it was to fill the tank in his 34-foot power boat, he told me, “The last time cost me between $500-600.”
Smaller boats, especially sail boats, are more energy efficient.
In November 2010, Thom Dammrich, President of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, explained that over the past couple of years the trend had reversed from building ever bigger boats.
“We’ve got to build what the market wants and right now it wants smaller boats,” he said in a November 2010 article in Trade Only Today magazine.
I played devil’s advocate, asking Barish and Marino that since boating is thought of as elitist, wouldn’t the public be better served by allowing the development, so the county could reap the increase in tax money to handle problems such as feeding the county’s poor, who are now facing cuts in welfare?
Barish explained that despite the supervisors’ claims, most of the revenue from the Local Coastal Plan will go not to the county, but to the developers.
The plan won’t significantly help the county’s budget but it will make boating less affordable, through the law of supply and demand, driving up the cost of slips for anyone with a boat under 35 feet.
How could the Coastal Commissioners deny the Local Coastal Plan? They could determine that the LCP violates the California Coastal Act, which it does in several places but most blatantly in one simple phrase from Section 30234: “Existing commercial fishing and recreational boating harbor space shall not be reduced unless the demand for those facilities no longer exists or adequate substitute space has been provided.”
It’s not that demand no longer exists, but that it’s been depressed by the recession. When it bounces back where will L.A. County's small boaters go?
As marina residents who care about Marina del Rey, Barish and Marino urge concerned boaters and locals to make their views known to the Coastal Commissioners June 15-17 at 8:30 a.m. at the .
If you can't be there, email Jack Ainsworth the Deputy Director of the California Coastal Commission with your objections.
For the public, this is the last chance we have to save Marina del Rey as we know it.