Marina Residents Ignore Odds, Start Fight for Cityhood

Times Staff Writer

‘We will just take it step by step each day. We have been used to having the odds against us.’

--LaVaun Vawter

Marina del Rey Cityhood

Despite opposition from landlords, county government, Summa Corp., state legislators and business leaders, Marina del Rey tenants have decided to take the first step toward cityhood with a petition drive for 1,400 signatures.

A tenants group called Marina del Rey Cityhood Inc. is collecting the signatures to require the Los Angeles County Local Agency Formation Commission to consider putting incorporation on the ballot.


Backers of the proposal believe that the appeal of home rule and rent control will make it easy to gather signatures from the required one-fourth of the community’s registered voters to get the issue on the ballot.

Many county and state elected officials and businessmen want the marina to remain unincorporated, while Summa officials insist that its 926 acres should be annexed by the city of Los Angeles. The company plans to build the $1-billion Playa Vista project on the land. The residential, business and office development would constitute nearly half of the proposed city of Marina del Rey, which would contain 1,900 acres.

They’ll Plug Ahead

But marina cityhood leaders said they will not be deterred by the opposition.

“We will just take it step by step each day,” said LaVaun Vawter, a director of Marina del Rey Cityhood Inc. “We have been used to having the odds against us.”

She said several issues will make it easy to get support from residents.

Tenants have been angered by rent increases of as much as 45% with the expiration of county-imposed rent controls, Vawter said. “If they had kept rent control, I don’t think this (cityhood effort) would have begun at all,” said Hy Tucker, president of the incorporation group.

“When you talk about rent control as the most important issue you get off the subject of what cityhood is all about,” Vawter said. “There are other issues like keeping crime down and controlling growth in the marina.

“We want people to be able to go to their own city hall and raise questions about these issues.”

Commission Decides on Vote

If enough signatures are verified, commission Director Ruth Benell will prepare a report and set a hearing. The hearing would take place in about three months, according to Benell.

The seven-member commission must then decide whether to put cityhood before the voters.

Chances are that Benell’s report will recommend against cityhood. In March she released a preliminary report to cityhood organizers that said a city of Marina del Rey would lose nearly $2 million in its first year of operation.

“It would appear to me that (the deficit) is a rather insurmountable obstacle,” Benell said last week. “I cannot imagine the commission approving incorporation where the estimated revenue is far short of the estimated expenses.”

Proponents said they will release a report of their own showing that the city will have enough money to provide services. They said other cities, including West Hollywood, received negative reports from Benell but went on to incorporate.

Figures Challenged

Tucker challenged several figures in Benell’s report, including the estimated $1.6-million cost of operating the harbor patrol, which Tucker said should be paid by the county. Cityhood proponents also hope to share in rents from marina businesses, a source that brought the county nearly $11.5 million last year.

Even if they can counter the predictions of financial doom, cityhood proponents will still have to fight Summa for half the territory proposed for cityhood.

The company has begun efforts to have Playa Vista annexed by Los Angeles. “We are simply in no way supportive of being included in the (marina) incorporation,” said Chris Henry, a Summa spokeswoman. “We feel the city of Los Angeles is far better equipped to handle a development of this size, compared to a city that is just being formed.”

Henry said the company would not oppose incorporation of areas that do not include Summa property.

Local business interests want the county to remain in control of the marina.

‘Logical Administration’

“We want logical administration, not emotional administration,” said Robert Leslie, director of the Marina Lessees Assn., which represents most businesses in the marina. “It’s logical under the county, but if you have a city run by a few tenants then it is likely to be run by emotion and not by good business practices.”

Leslie said that local control would turn the marina from “a paradise for boaters and tenants into a diminishing project that would become a slum area.” Maintenance of apartments would deteriorate under a restrictive rent control law, Leslie said.

Last month, reportedly at the instigation of a marina developer, a bill was presented in the state Senate that could block the Marina cityhood effort.

The bill, introduced by Sen. William Lockyer (D-Hayward), would prevent residents from taking preliminary steps toward incorporation in areas where less than 50% of the land is privately owned. The bill is expected to be heard in the Senate’s Local Government Committee next month.

The bill is the second in less than a year that would prevent cityhood in the marina. The first bill was backed last September by the conservative majority of the county Board of Supervisors but died at the end of the legislative session because there was not time to hold hearings on it.

Vawter said that killing the new bill, along with writing a financial study of incorporation, will be her group’s most important task. State Sen. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles) has agreed to help stop the legislation.