The Los Angeles County Marina del Rey Design Control Board and the Small Craft Harbor Commission, along with representatives of the Department of Beaches and Harbors held a special joint meeting Wednesday, October 30, 2013 from 6-9pm at the Burton Chace Park Community Center at 13650 Mindanao Way. The room was packed. The Department of Beaches and Harbors handles leasing negotiations with developers pursuing new projects and renewals of those who currently lease property in MDR. The Design Control Board reviews plans for new development in Marina del Rey. Their recommendations are then sent to the Regional Planning Board which, if it approves plans for the projects sends them to the Board of Supervisors for approval. If a variance is required from the California Coastal Commission, the CCC will also be involved in the final approval process.
The audience consisted not only of residents in unincorporated Marina del Rey, but adjacent communities including Venice (the Silver Strand, the Venice Canals, the Venice Peninsula and the Oxford Triangle. The boating community was also out in full force. Typical of Los Angeles County’s approach to the public, the audience was allowed to speak, but not to ask questions of any of the Los Angeles County representatives present. This “speak with no response ” process is unfortunate because the County and its various departments never have to justify their actions to the public (except at election time.) The atmosphere was civilized, but the comments from the public were 99.9% negative and accompanied by an undertow of anger about the County’s disregard of the impact of their development plans on residents of MDR and adjacent communities, boaters and visitors. Roughly 40 or more people filled out speaker cards.
The meeting began with Gina Natoli , Supervising Regional Planner, presenting a short report on the progress of the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning’s “Marina del Rey Visioning Process.” The Visioning Process was created this year as an outreach program to the public to have a voice in the County’s 20-year plan for development, redevelopment and refurbishing of Marina del Rey. The program consisted of three meetings/workshops at the Marina del Rey Hotel. In addition, the DRP created an online site, “Envision Marina del Rey.” The site design was outsourced to MIG, a company which specializes in creating “virtual” town hall meetings online. It consisted of pre-defined topics asking questions people could answer. Due to the opaqueness of the Envision Marina del Rey web-site design, it is difficult to determine how many people actually contributed an idea, but I would guess under 200 and this is out of a population of 10,000 residents in MDR, not to mention adjacent communities. Regional Planning says that it will review the public input resulting from the Visioning meetings/workshops and send the results to the Board of Supervisors with a view to possibly recommending changes in the Marina del Rey Local Coastal Plan. The LCP was amended by the Board of Supervisors and approved by the California Coastal Commission on November 3, 2011 at a hearing held in San Diego. The amendment met with a great of public disapproval due to the increase permitted height limits and density allowances for projects in the Marina and the reduction of public parking and reduced number of boat slips.
The topics presented by MDR Visioning Process, both in the meetings/workshops and the online, were solely about improving recreational use of the Marina with no attention paid to what many feel is the lack of master plan in terms over-development and a lack of concern with the need of the kind of infrastructure required to support large new rental projects like the already built “Shores” and two other 500+ unit structures in the pipe-line, which the County is proposing on, or just off, Via Marina. Many felt that the “Envision” concept was an “as usual” example of the County Board of Supervisors and Regional Planning putting their heads in the sand and avoiding the issues which really concern the public, i.e the County and the DRP attempting to fulfill their obligation to get public input, but stifling the responses by limiting the topics under discussion. The first meeting was well attended, although extremely contentious, with the public expressing their displeasure with the County’s aggressive over-development of MDR (see post of May 15, 2013). The next two meetings were sparsely attended (see post of June 8, 2013) with only 30 or so members of the public present. Other than Michael Tripp, nobody on the Envision Marina del Rey team seemed able or willing to address the hard questions which attendees asked by those attending the workshop/meetings. Perhaps the Board of Supervisors and the DRP think that the public is dumb. They should remember Abraham Lincoln’s famous remark: You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.
It would have far more productive if the County Board of Supervisors, the DRP, DCB Beaches and Harbors, and potential developers, all with informed representatives on hand, had held workshops without pre-defined topics, to truly determine what the public thinks about their proposals for Marina del Rey. The elephant in the room regarding the MDR Visioning Process is the fact that, if this project was so meaningful and if Los Angeles County really wanted to engage the public in a discussion of their plans, why is that none of these meetings was attended by any of the five members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, including Don Knabe, BOS Chair, who represents MDR? Why was Richard Bruckner, the Director of Regional Planning not present at any of the meetings (he did present himself in a strangely disembodied and awkward video at the October 30 event). The major players from Los Angeles County who were present at this final meeting were: Peter Phinney, Chair of the Design Review Board, Gary Jones, Acting Director of the Department of Beaches and Harbors and Michael Tripp, Chief Planning Specialist for the Design Review Board.
The speakers from the public made the following points:
1) The County needs to establish a working liaison with the City, and vice-versa, in terms of any proposed projects in MDR which affect adjacent properties.
2) The County has not addressed the impact that their projects cause on traffic congestion on Via Marina, Admiralty Way, Washington and Lincoln Boulevards. In terms of ingress and egress to and from MDR, there are only five short blocks: two between Via Marina and Washington, and three between Admiralty and Lincoln. The back ups on all five are already bad enough without increased development. These short blocks cannot be widened, so the County is proposing to add an extra turn lane on four of them to solve the problem. But will it do the trick? Doubtful. One resident said that it now takes him 25 minutes to travel one mile on Washington. Another said that the traffic study done by the County in connection with new LCP was inadequate and inaccurate and that the company who did it spent all of two days in the field. The County wants to attract tourists and add residents, but if people people can’t move around easily they will stay away.
3) In terms of approving projects, the County has consistently reduced public parking and boat slips. It has put in place extremely ugly and massive projects like the Shores on Via Marina, the latter being totally out of keeping with the aesthetics of the MDR. There are large rental projects still to come, i.e. Esprit II and Legacy Partners Neptune Marina apartments, both on Via Marina. The County is still, despite great public opposition, proposing to put a hotel on Via Marina at Marquesas Way. That project is currently the subject of litigation between the County and the Ballona Wetlands Land Trust because the foot-print of the hotel encroaches on a proposed wetland park at the southern end of the parcel at Tahiti Way.
4) The County is not pursuing sound ideas in terms of well informed urban planning. We are seeing the results of piece-meal planning without enough thought being given to the infrastructure required to support these projects. As one speaker said: “You don’t build when you don’t have adequate transportation and traffic plans in place to allow people to get from A to B.” The County is steadfastly killing the goose that lays its golden eggs. If you want an example of how over-development can ruin a tourist attraction and residential community, check out downtown Santa Monica. Parking is a nightmare. The same fate is befalling Abbot Kinney Boulevard. Again, parking is impossible.
5) The developer of Fisherman’s Village presented his plans for renovating the site which currently consists of small dilapidated “doll-house” like structures, many of which are vacant. He asked that the Fisherman’s Village redevelopment be detached from the “Visioning Process” as that will only present more delays. He presented his plans with his renderings for the site which seem acceptable.
6) One speaker said that the County noticing program is woefully inadequate and that, as a result, the public is not well-informed about upcoming County meetings about plans on development in MDR. He reported that the Department of Beaches and Harbors made a huge effort to inform the public via postcards about the Mothers Beach Farmer’s Market, but that in terms of all else relied on people going on-line to find out what the County is planning for MDR. There are members of the public who do not use computers.
7) Another speaker commented that the road work being done on Admiralty Way is shoddy and patchwork. The County wants to present MDR as a “world-class tourist site,” yet they continue to cram as many badly designed buildings as possible to parcels around the harbor, cutting off views of the water.
8) One speaker stated that Parcel OT on Admiralty is being developed as a luxury residence for senior citizens and that this is not in keeping with the use of land being held in public trust by the County. She made another point about the controversial proposed location of the Annenberg Foundation’s educational center and pet adoption in the Ballona wetlands and said that the project should be relocated to Parcel OT which is close to the Oxford Basin which is in the process of being redeveloped a bird conservatory with a public path around it.