We're No Yuppies, Say Proponents of Marina Cityhood

Times Staff Writer

Hy Tucker, 69, flew 400 miles to Sacramento in an attempt to persuade state senators to vote against a bill that would prevent cityhood in Marina del Rey. Not only did Tucker fail (the bill passed the Senate and is pending in the Assembly) but he found himself being called a "yuppie."

"It's greedy, rich yuppies who want to create a city on public land," said Sen. William Lockyer (D-Hayward), the original sponsor of the bill. Lockyer said young urban professionals want a city created so they can impose rent control to save themselves money.

Angered by Answer

That was more than Tucker, a grandfather who is president of Marina del Rey Cityhood Inc. and retired, could stand.

"I wanted to spit in his eye," Tucker said recently. "The man had never been down here or even seen the marina. He admitted that. I said give me the definition of a yuppie, because I don't even know what it means."

When the debate shifts to the Assembly, the question of just who does live in Marina del Rey is sure to follow. Although demographics partly uphold the legislators' perception of the marina, they also reveal a population of middle- and lower-income residents, many of them senior citizens who moved into the marina several years ago and are fighting to stay on.

Many see cityhood as their only hope.

In the 1980 census, 52% of marina residents were listed as either executives or professionals, compared to just 25% in Los Angeles County as a whole. And the median household income was $27,000, almost 50% higher than the rest of the county. The income figure was projected to rise to $44,000 by last year.

BMWs, Mercedeses and other late-model cars parked in marina apartment garages hint at the high incomes in the area.

Amid the well-off singles who seem to follow the old stereotypes in the marina is a smaller group made up of senior citizens on fixed incomes and middle-income wage earners.

According to the census, 19% of the marina's residents are 55 or older and 20% of the households have incomes of less than $15,000 a year. About 320 people, or 4%, live below the poverty level.

They are among the marina apartment dwellers hit this year with rent increases as high as 45%, after the county's rent control law expired. And, not coincidentally, they are among the most active supporters of cityhood.

"These are tenants who have lived in the marina for years," said LaVaun Vawter, a leader of the cityhood group. "But they are finding it more and more difficult to stay. Many have already left because of the spiraling rents."

This is the stable Marina del Rey community, which forms civic groups, puts on art shows and supports the community, Vawter said. They will move out and be replaced by transient executives and salesmen who often do not stay long enough to add anything to the community, she said.

One couple talked about the difficulty of meeting rent increases on a fixed income. Like many of those interviewed by The Times, they asked that their names be withheld because they said they fear retaliation by their landlords.

Still Active

Although in their 70s, they still enjoy an active life that includes bicycling, swimming and tennis. They do not want to leave the marina.

But the couple recently received a notice that on Nov. 1 their rent will increase from $752 to $915 a month. If they want new carpets and drapes, they have been advised, the rent will be raised to $1,025, or 36% above the current rent.

"We could afford it for a year, but if they are going to raise it above that, it is very much out of the question," the wife said. "It's pretty steep."

The couple lives on Social Security, interest from savings and the husband's occasional work as a substitute community college teacher.

They have applied for county-sponsored rent mediation sessions in the hope of reducing the increase. Although their carpet has worn through in spots, they do not want to pay the $110 more a month demanded by the landlord just for new carpet and drapes.

The couple supports cityhood. "I think the people who pay so much rent and are good citizens deserve voice in the government," she said. "And right now the government is monopolized by the developers and the Board of Supervisors. We have no say, no autonomy at all."

In another case, a 68-year-old woman who lives in the Marina Harbor apartments said she has been told that her rent will rise from $498 to $590 in September and to $775 sometime next year.

Living on $579 a month in Social Security and savings, she is afraid that she will have to leave her home of 11 years. "It would be very, very tight to stay here," she said. "We moved in here to make it our home. We are not fly-by-nights or anything. There certainly should be some consideration for an old-time tenant. And I think (the landlords) just don't care."

At the Mariner's Village apartments next door, Joyce Radine is paying $650 a month for a one-bedroom apartment, about 10% more than she paid last month. By next April, Radine has already been told, her rent will be raised to the "market" level of $850. That amounts to a 45% increase in less than a year.

Foresees Trouble

With take-home pay of $1,100 a month from her job as an auditor for a marina hotel, she will have trouble making ends meet.

"I don't even know what a yuppie is," Radine said with disgust. "If you come down here you will see the people who have been here for a long time and really consider it their home. They are the ones who are going to move.

"I'm going to have to get out."

For their part, marina landlords said they have been prevented from making a fair market return on their investments. With rent controls expiring this year on the anniversary date of each tenant's lease, the landlords have an opportunity to raise rents as much as they want.

Only 17% of the marina's 5,800 apartments remained controlled on June 1 and by the end of the year all rent controls will end.

"I think what you have is a situation where people were riding the gravy train for a number of years," said Robert Leslie, spokesman for the Marina del Rey Lessees Assn. "And now they are being brought up to market (rents). Some of these people do not think it is worth it and they are moving to other areas. When they see what the market is outside, I think they will find that it is comparable."

The lessees association represents the majority of marina apartment owners, who lease their land from the county.

Leslie guessed that less than 1% of the turnover in the marina this year has been caused by the end of rent control. He said tenants who want a city are after a new rent control law and nothing more.

Rents Would Decrease

The county's 7.5% share of marina rents would decrease if a city of Marina del Rey enacts a rent control law, Leslie said.

Sen. Joseph Montoya (D-El Monte), who sponsored the anti-cityhood bill on the Senate floor, said, "We are talking about a politically sophisticated, upper-middle-income people who know how to manipulate the system to their advantage. It's at the expense of the rest of the county taxpayers."

Some marina residents said that although their neighbors may not be worried about finances, they are struggling to get by. Rose Reson, who has seen many of the cases as a rent mediator and resident, said the end of rent control will make the marina the kind of haven for the wealthy that the legislators described.

"It's a self-fulfilling prophecy," Reson said. "If they make the cheapest apartment $750, then you know you are going to have to make at least three times that to live down here."

Radine, the working woman who may be forced to leave her apartment, insists that many marina residents do not fit the yuppie mold.

"I really feel down because this is my home," she said. "Money, in the end, wins out. You feel like your little voice doesn't mean anything."

Times staff writer Mark Gladstone in Sacramento contributed to this report.

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