Rough Waters

Rough Waters

With proposed development in Marina Del Rey that could add more than 3,700 residential units and 630 new hotel rooms, the County of Los Angeles has officially begun a process to determine whether it would adopt recent California Coastal Commission recommendations to limit and examine development and bring the marina’s Local Coastal Plan (LCP) into compliance with the California Coastal Act.

On October 29, the county held a meeting to gather public input about the Coastal Commission’s 67 recommendations—made on October 16—concerning density and urban planning. These included changing land use designations of parks or parking lots; a comprehensive study of anticipated future development; and incentives for free or lower-cost public uses on waterfront parcels. While the county is not required to follow the recommendations, it must provide the commission with a report specifying its reasons for not following them.

As the aging marina—once a bastion of stewardesses when air travel was the sleek new way to travel—has been slated for updates and new development, the county has faced increasingly contentious opposition to its handling of the roughly 950-acre marina, initially financed through a publicly-funded bond measure.

Underlying community objections is the fact that the county both owns the marina’s property and controls all planning in the area. Officials negotiate terms of leases with developers in closed-door sessions, leaving the public and urban planners with little capability to adjust those terms once they reach the design process. The Coastal Commission has therefore been viewed as a non-partisan decision-maker.

“The county is the landlord on every property, and development partner on every property,” noted Steve Freedman, a Venice resident who lives just feet from the marina’s property line. “I think there’s a term for that—conflict of interest.”

Freedman’s assertion is disputed by David Sommers, a spokesperson for County Supervisor Don Knappe, whose 4th district includes the marina. Sommers said the dual role, which dates back approximately 50 years, was “not a conflict,” and all decisions made by the Board of Supervisors are reviewed by several other entities.

But in October, the Board of Supervisors shifted some responsibilities, as well as the meetings of the local review board known as the Design Control Board (DCB), to the county’s regional planning commission downtown. A person familiar with the decision who agreed to speak with AN on condition of anonymity believed the move was partially to limit decisions that ran against developer interests, as in the case of the Woodfin Hotel. initially slated to be situated on protected wetlands. Though the project is now moving forward, the Design Control Board delayed its approval, requiring that its site plan be changed.

In an e-mail to AN, Susan Cloke, the Design Control Board’s chair said, “The recent action, removing site plan and conceptual review from the board’s authority, diminishes our ability to help the marina become all that it could be.” Cloke cited recreational activities like boating, walking, and cycling, essential to producing income for the area, that had been sidelined in favor of residential and commercial development.

“The magnificent thing about the marina is that it was designed as a resort for daily life,” observed John Chase, co-author of the book Everyday Urbanism. “But because the marina is county territory… there is little local control and accountability for the nature and quality of development there.”

According to Gina M. Natoli, supervising regional planner with the County of Los Angeles, the county will address the commission’s recommendation for a comprehensive study of development and the DCB will continue to exercise design review authority after the county has approved site plans. Among those on the DCB are planners like Simon Pastucha, whom Gail Goldberg appointed to the Urban Design Studio to set a design criteria system for walkable streets in the City of Los Angeles.

Additionally, the county’s Department of Beaches and Harbors is planning a study on the cumulative effect of all redevelopment projects that are in the proprietary or regulatory processes, according to Kerry Silverstrom, chief deputy director. The review will study the impacts of such large projects as the 19-story, 424-room and time-share unit Woodfin, large residential projects like a 544-unit apartment complex, and large-scale restaurants, retail, and mixed use.

The county’s October 29 public meeting also kicked off a series of working groups organized to review the Coastal Commission recommendations and report their input to the county’s Board of Supervisors. Natoli anticipates the county will complete its response to the Coastal Commission’s recommendations by October 2009.