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Ideas for Widening Expressway Studied : Transportation: Link between Culver City and Marina del Rey is subject of behind-the-scenes talks between county officials and developers.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles County officials have been engaged in behind-the-scenes contacts with developers about widening a mile-long stretch of the Marina Expressway between Culver City and Marina del Rey, constructing a park-and-ride lot or other transit facility and selling any excess land to builders.

Although the property is owned by the state, county officials said they have been hired by Caltrans to conduct a study on future use of more than 30 acres of right of way extending from Ballona Creek, just east of Culver Boulevard, to Lincoln Boulevard.

The study will examine possible expansion of the freeway, including the addition of a lane to the westbound roadway, moving the eastbound lanes to the north, and constructing a park-and-ride lot primarily for car pools. Other ideas include a future light-rail station or other transportation facility on part of the property.

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Businesses that operate on Caltrans land in the large median strip of the Marina Expressway--including an athletic club, tennis courts and a nursery--could be moved or closed and any surplus land could be sold for residential or commercial development.

The concept, which county officials insist is very preliminary, received a chilly reception Tuesday night from more than 60 members of the Villa Marina neighborhood that lies just to the east of Marina del Rey.

Representatives of the county’s Community Development Commission insisted there is no specific plan for the Route 90 right of way. “We don’t come to you with a project because we’re very early in the process,” said Bill Johnson, manager of the commission’s development management division.

Pointing to a poster-size aerial photo of the existing expressway, Johnson explained that the two-part study will examine what road improvements should be made and what to do with any excess land. “The intention is to improve traffic flow,” he said. “We’re not promising to solve the traffic problem 100%.”

But neighborhood leaders, who have become battle-hardened veterans of major development battles along nearby Lincoln Boulevard, were suspicious and skeptical of why county officials were taking the lead in a study on use of state land in the city of Los Angeles.

And they were curious about how adding traffic lanes and developing surplus land would improve the area’s serious traffic problems.

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“You put more freeway lanes in, you get more cars,” said Martin Hershey, owner of the Marina Tennis Club, which has occupied the median strip of the expressway for 17 years. Hershey said he discovered a team of surveyors on his leased property last week.

“A lot of what they are saying doesn’t make any sense,” said Terry Conner, vice president of the Villa Marina Council. “It’s not all out on the table.”

Conner speculated that the county may be looking for a way to resurrect the long-dormant Marina bypass, a controversial plan to extend the Marina Expressway across Lincoln Boulevard into county-owned Marina del Rey.

The county has been stymied in efforts to intensify development in the marina by a Coastal Commission requirement that the bypass or other transportation improvements be constructed first.

“The two are totally unrelated,” Judith Kendall, director of development for the county Community Development Commission, said in an interview Wednesday.

Kendall insisted that no decisions or commitments have been made. “Nothing has been done at this point.”

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Neighborhood suspicions about the county’s motives were heightened by acknowledged contacts about the right of way between county representatives and major builders in the area. Among those contacted were Maguire Thomas Partners, which wants to develop the massive city-within-a-city project called Playa Vista on more than 670 acres between the marina and the Westchester Bluffs; the J. H. Snyder Co., which is building the high-rise Channel Gateway residential and office project at the end of the Marina Expressway, and a development firm headed by Jona Goldrich, who has interests in Marina del Rey.

Ellis Gottlieb, project manager for the county commission’s development division, said he talked to the developers. “I guess in retrospect we should have come here first,” he told the residents.

Questioned by members of the audience, Johnson said: “There are no deals here. This is public land. It will be treated openly.”

Gottlieb insisted the county agency has no preconceived notions about how the expressway land should be used. “We are not saying we are going to develop the property,” he said. “We’re here to find out what you want.”

But the hour-long meeting did little to allay community concerns. Conner said most residents are uncomfortable with the prospect of further intense development nearby, and he vowed that the neighborhood will be vigilant in monitoring actions by county officials. “They are not going to operate under a rock,” he said.

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