King Harbor On Lookout for Operator of Boat Hoists

Times Staff Writer

After spending weekends on friends' boats for about 10 years, Lawrence Taylor finally bought one of his own six months ago.

Now the boat hoists he relied on to get his 21-foot Glastron motorboat into King Harbor have been shut down.

"I've always wanted my own boat and I finally got it and they close me down," Taylor said.

The hoists have not been in operation since late December, when the former operator, Salco Marine Services Inc., was evicted from the Charles G. Johnston Inc. leasehold.

(The city owns the land at King Harbor, which includes the pier, but it is divided into 18 master leaseholds. The master lessees may sublease portions of their leaseholds with city approval.)

City and Johnston representatives are looking for someone to operate the hoists, which, they say, are badly in need of repair and have proven to be a money-losing venture for at least five years. "I believe everyone on staff believes King Harbor is not King Harbor without a boat hoist," said City Manager Timothy Casey.

Smaller Boat Ramp

King Harbor has a ramp for launching boats small enough to be carried on top of cars, but it is closed during the winter and will not be reopened until April.

Ramps are generally less expensive for users because they do not require the maintenance that hoists do, said Gordon McRae, vice president and general manager of the Redondo Beach Marina--part of the Johnston leasehold.

The county-operated ramp at Marina Del Rey charges $3, which includes parking. The King Harbor hoists cost from $12 to $25, depending on the size of the boat. The fee includes removing the boat from the water as well as putting it in.

Casey said a study was done several years ago on the possibilities of putting a ramp in King Harbor that could be used by trailered boats. The study concluded that such a ramp could be added only if the city condemned parts of private leaseholds through eminent domain or cut through the popular Seaside Lagoon.

Neither option is being considered, he added.

Both city officials and McRae say they are trying to find an operator for the hoists as well as a way to make the business--which includes renting skiffs--profitable. McRae said the Redondo Beach Marina has had 30 to 40 inquiries from people interested in operating the hoists.

But, he said, "if they looked at the figures there right now, they probably wouldn't want to take it over, but probably 90% of (the inquirers) are looking for jobs rather than being a serious tenant."

The operator in 1984, Charles G. Johnston Inc., lost $38,000, Harbor Director Sheila Schoettger said. The 1984 figure was the only one available.

Casey said the city is considering giving the master lessee a rent reduction that could be passed onto the holder of the sublease.

In 1985, under an agreement reached with the city, the sublease rent was reduced to 10% of gross revenues from 25%. McRae said sales dropped about the same time and a further rent reduction is needed. Johnston's company operated the hoists from 1983 to 1986, McRae said, but is no longer interested in doing so.

The city staff is studying the legal, financial and operational options the city has in getting the hoists back in operation, including whether the city can require Johnston to operate them, Casey said.

The construction of boat hoists was one of the improvements listed when the master lease was written for that portion of the harbor 25 years ago, he said. But, Casey added, the lessee is permitted to change an operation to make more money.

McRae said he does not think the master lessee is required to maintain an unprofitable hoist, but said the company would like to find someone to operate it anyway.

"We think it's a good service to the public and we would like to continue it," he said.

City Could Operate Them

Casey said the city is also considering operating the hoists itself.

But Harbor Director Schoettger sees that as a last-resort alternative because "we're not in the habit of operating that type of business."

Adding to the financial problems of operators, she said, is the "peaking and valleying" of demand for the hoists. And even when the demand is low, she said, two employees are required to be present.

From April to November, the hoists put an average of 15 boats into the water on weekdays and 70 a day on weekends, Schoettger said. From November to April, figures fall to eight boats on weekdays and 36 on weekends, she said.

"In all honesty," she said, "there are not a lot of users; there are a lot of repeat users."

Nevertheless, she said, "I think the public entities have a responsibility to provide different recreational opportunities. . . . I think we have an obligation to preserve what we have."

Salco was evicted in late December primarily because it did not have insurance, McRae said. "Lifting someone's $200,000 boat off of a trailer involves some risk and someone could get hurt," he said.

Salco representatives could not be reached for comment.

Other Problems for Firm

Salco had other problems, McRae said. The company did not have workers' compensation, was about three months behind in its rent and did not have certification for one of the hoists from the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration, he said.

Nor did Salco fulfill all of its sublease provisions, Schoettger said.

When Salco signed the sublease in April, 1986, it agreed to repair the boat hoists and remove a third hoist, Schoettger said. The company removed one of the hoists, but it did not repair the others, she said. Now both hoists need even more repairs, she added.

Nevertheless, the harbor director said, the city did not receive any complaints about the boat hoist until after Salco was evicted in December. Since that time, Schoettger estimated that City Hall has received about 30 complaints, mostly from people who depend on fishing for their livelihood. The mayor and several council members said they also received complaints.

Schoettger said at least one fisherman complained that it was not worth using the facilities at Cabrillo Beach or Marina Del Rey because the good fishing is near King Harbor and too much time would be wasted traveling there.

Prime Fishing Spot

Taylor, a recreational fisherman who lives in South Redondo, agreed that the area near King Harbor is a prime fishing spot. "There are other good places," he said. "There are good places everywhere, but when you're familiar with a place, you like to go there."

He said he has used the ramp in Cabrillo Beach since the hoists have been shut down, but he does not take his boat out as often.

"There's no doubt about it, the ocean has been my main source of recreation," said Taylor, 36, a construction supervisor who also skin dives and surfs. But now, he said, "I started a garden in the backyard. I'm not kidding. I had to do something."

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