January 1, 2003 - From the December/January, 2003 issue

L.A. County Officials Have Big Redevelopment Plans For Marina Del Rey Waterfront

Flying below the media radar is the significant redevelopment effort taking place at Marina del Rey. The County is pouring millions of dollars into a new waterfront that will offer recreation opportunities to boaters and resident. TPR is pleased to present this interview with Stan Wisniewski, Director of the County of Los Angeles' Department of Beaches and Harbors, in which he discusses the scope of the project taking place at Marina del Rey and what it will mean to Los Angeles area residents.


Stan Wisniewski

What's on the agenda for the Department of Beaches and Harbors going forward into 2003? For our readers who are interested in both public infrastructure investment and quality land use planning, what should we be aware of that's on the horizon for your department?

We manage 30 miles of beaches in Los Angeles County and we have approximately $28 million in beach projects that we're pursuing and they are at various phases. Some are under construction now and others are working their way through the entitlement process. We have another $100 million in unfunded capital projects that we are in that grassroots phase of trying to find the funding. All of these are very real projects that we're hopeful will quality for funding through propositions that have passed.

You have jurisdiction over the Marina del Rey area. Could you tell us what your responsibilities are and what you have planned for the area?

Marina del Rey is an 800-acre complex and it's all owned by the County of Los Angeles. There are some 400 acres of land and 400 acres of water. When the Marina was first developed, it was envisioned solely as a small craft harbor. When the bonds weren't being paid back, the County instituted an overlay, facilitating the development of the hotels, restaurants and apartments. We have approximately 50 long-term substantial revenue producing leases, by which developers came into the Marina in the early 1960's, developed the facilities, and in return for developing the facilities were generally awarded 60-year leases for which they pay the County fair market rent. These leases in Marina del Rey generate around $28 million a year for the County.

For the second generation of Marina del Rey, we wanted to create a coherent integrated place where people can not only live and come on a boat and recreate, but also come for the day-both non-boaters and non-residents-to enjoy the waterfront.

So, we developed a strategy by which we're now renegotiating for the redevelopment of Marina del Rey. We've had a number of requests for proposals and ventures that we have gone out with. In all, there were probably five or six RFPs. From those solicitation efforts, we've negotiated, and the Board has already approved, five lease extensions which have affected seven leaseholds-some of those are for renovating existing facilities and some of those are for razing existing facilities and building new. They all fit into the Marina Asset Management Strategy adopted by the Board. Those projects that I just mentioned will generate an additional $4.7 million in County rents once they are fully in place.

Then we have another 20 additional projects that are in various phases of negotiation now. When all of the projects are finished, there will be an approximate $18.1 million increase in the County's leasehold revenue stream from Marina del Rey, which is currently $28 million, so it will go up by approximately 65%.

The real excitement is that Marina del Rey will be much more welcoming to visitors. It certainly will be more exciting and user-friendly to boaters and residents alike. But, it will be an integrated plan.

There were originally two plans for Marina del Rey. The first plan just didn't make it; it didn't generate enough money to pay off a relatively small bond that was issued by the County of Los Angeles. So, a second plan had to be brought in to play to bring in other uses that generated additional income to help pay off the bonded indebtedness. There always has been a chafing between those two plans.

Marina del Rey was developed as a vehicular-oriented community. In order to improve its utility to boaters, visitors and residents, we aim to make it a water-oriented community with a waterfront promenade along all seven-and-a-half miles of our seawall. We will have a water taxi system and a number of other things to get people out on the water and enjoying Marina del Rey. We are also developing a number of interesting venues to visit, making Marina del Rey a place where you want to come and stay for the day. It will be an exciting place to live and recreate at the same time.

This is a metropolis of ten million people. What you've just described is probably known by less than one-percent of L.A.'s residents. How is it that so little is known and what are the consequences of being below the radar as opposed to being in meetings that are receiving constant attention from the public and the press?

Well, we have received quite a bit of notice as each of these projects worked their way through the regulatory process, which goes before the Small Craft Harbor Commission here in Marina del Rey. It goes through the Marina Design Control Board, which is essentially an architectural review committee. It also goes through the County's Regional Planning Commission, the Board of Supervisors, and in most cases, the California Coastal Commission. We do receive a lot of interest and participation from residents and boaters who use Marina del Rey, and frankly, we are trying to encourage more participation.

One of the primary goals of this second-generation redevelopment is to make Marina del Rey less insular. It is a relatively insular place right now, which is probably why the world doesn't know about all of these wonderful things we're doing. We are working to make Marina del Rey an L.A. County destination-a place that will generate its own interest.

We've taken great pains to try to minimize the impact on current Marina residents, but they're generally the ones who are participating at different levels. When you talk about the other 99% of the County who own this asset, they're not directly impacted by the development. They're either not aware that we own the asset or they're assuming, and they rightly would assume, that the County Board of Supervisors is managing it in a proactive manner, which certainly is what the Board of Supervisors is doing.

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Lastly, a few years ago, we developed a Marina del Rey Convention and Visitors Bureau. As you said, nobody knows Marina del Rey. They don't know where it is or what it is. We are now working with a very progressive Convention and Visitors Bureau to start changing the image and bring life and vitality back to Marina del Rey. The sparkle has started to diminish since the 1970's.

Do you have any programs that seek to attract more Angelenos to recreate at the Marina and at the beaches?

The project that is the most exciting to all of us is called the W.A.T.E.R Program: Water, Awareness, Training, Education, and Recreation. The major focus of that is on inner-city youth who don't have the opportunity to get water skills. When these kids go to the beach, in many cases, they're not familiar with rip currents in the ocean or with the recreational opportunities that they have here in Southern California. The WATER program brings inner-city kids to the beach, where we can train them in ocean skills-everything from surfing to kayaking to wind surfing-so that they become safer when they are one of the 60 million people a year that use our beaches.

We currently are operating out of a trailer on a parking lot in Marina del Rey. However, the Board of Supervisors just approved formalizing an arrangement with the California Department of Parks and Recreation in which we were awarded $3 million to build a youth center at Dockweiler State Beach. We intend to seek yet another $3 million in grant money to build a like facility at Will Rogers Beach. Also, we are planning to develop an aquatic center in Marina del Rey, providing a triangle of services for inner-city kids. These new facilities will allow us to grow the program from 4,000 to 44,000 children per year.

We also have a Summer Concert Series in Burton Chace Park in the Marina that we provide free to the public, with Arrowhead as our presenting sponsor. We offer four Thursday night classical concerts and four pops concerts on alternating Saturday nights. We encourage families to come and picnic on our waterfront park hillsides while listening to quality music and watching the boats sail across the sunset. It's spectacular.

Stan, when you go through the supermarket line, and you hear people say they get nothing for their tax dollars, what goes through your mind?

Generally speaking, people don't understand which level of government-city, county, state, or federal-provides each individual service. For the County, the chief administrative officer has been successfully pursuing a program to inform the people who live in Los Angeles County what services are available to them. It's very confusing to the members of the public. Until residents are made aware of what the County's role is and how the County is focused on improving the quality of life in Los Angeles County, it will be very difficult for people to really understand what they're getting for their tax dollar.

The Board of Supervisors is committed to ensuring that there is greater awareness of not only what we do, but how to take advantage of the services that the County provides. This is particularly important during these tough budgetary times-everybody knows that we are the last resort on health care, but I doubt very seriously that when someone goes to a beach, they know whether it's a federal agency, a state agency, a city agency, or a county agency. Generally, people think it's the city that's providing the services. They don't know that it's the County of Los Angeles providing the recreational services to them.

A year from now, if we come back and do this interview, what should we look for as benchmarks for success?

Look for the number of additional lease extensions that have been approved by the Board of Supervisors to facilitate redevelopment in Marina del Rey. Look for an expansion of the water taxi system that we piloted last summer and which we intend to expand this coming summer. Look for significant additional beach projects-there are a couple scheduled to be awarded and beginning construction in the coming year.

More than anything, I would hope that there is a greater public awareness of what we are trying to do in redeveloping Marina del Rey. I realize it's difficult, especially for the residents in Marina del Rey because change is difficult. In the interest of making this an attractive facility, not only for Los Angeles County, but for everyone that has an interest in visiting, making everyone more aware of Marina del Rey is probably how we will best be judged in the coming year.

In the next two years, there will be a lot of new construction projects in the Marina. That's going to be a challenge for us, to bring people into the Marina while these construction projects are underway. The logistics and the challenges of managing this redevelopment effort in an existing community are going to be very challenging and it's up to us to make sure that we get the information out to the public and manage their concerns as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

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