County OKs Bidding for Marina del Rey Leases


Moving to break the lock that a small group of politically well-connected developers have long held over Marina del Rey, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt a redevelopment plan that will include competitive bidding for lucrative leases on the prime waterfront property.

At the behest of board Chairman Zev Yaroslavsky, the supervisors directed the Department of Beaches and Harbors to solicit “open, competitive bids on any leases made available” through the buyout of existing leaseholders or offering of any new leases.

For the first time, the supervisors also adopted safeguards to ensure that the financially strapped county receives a greater return from its ownership of the world’s largest man-made small-craft harbor.


The marina’s apartments, boat slips, hotels, shops, offices and restaurants were built in the 1960s on county-owned land by a small group of developers and are operated on long-term, generally 60-year leases with the county. Over the past decade those leaseholders have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the supervisors’ campaigns, and most hope to see their current leases extended.

Tuesday, however, the supervisors voted to require comprehensive appraisal of the land and water value of the properties involved before granting any extensions or additional leases.

Supervisor Gloria Molina, who has continually questioned the special relationship between the leaseholders and county, hailed Tuesday’s vote as a major breakthrough.

“Up to now there has been a strong hold on . . . some of the supervisors by many of the present lessees,” Molina said. “I’d like to break that logjam and I think we’re seeing that today. I’m impressed. It’s a tremendous victory for the county.”

Molina added that the generous campaign contributions from the marina developers have had an effect on the board’s decisions.

“The money had a lot to do with it,” she said.

Yaroslavsky went straight to the heart of the marina issue by pointing out that competitive bidding for a new lease on scenic oceanfront property owned by the county and occupied by Gladstone’s restaurant had resulted in a projected 60% increase in the county’s rental income.


Yaroslavsky said he is “absolutely convinced” that there will be many bidders for waterfront property in the marina if the county opens up the process to new players. “Put all these people in the same arena and force them to compete . . . just like a poker game,” he said.

The county’s economic consultant, Allan Kotin, acknowledged that the county has no way to know if it is getting the most “we could or the return we should” without competitive bidding. “You’ve identified a very real issue,” he said.

At Molina’s urging, the supervisors also stripped the redevelopment plan of any references to financial incentives, including lease extensions that would be granted if the leaseholders agreed to improve their holdings.

Returning to the poker metaphor, Molina said the county was showing all its cards to the developers by listing the kinds of financial breaks it was willing to provide. “You guys must be lousy poker players,” she told county officials.

Supervisor Don Knabe, who represents the marina area and has been a major recipient of lessees’ campaign contributions since his days as a city councilman in Cerritos, called approval of the strategy “a real accomplishment” that will bring “a vision and a plan for the future of the marina.”

Knabe accepted the flurry of amendments offered by his colleagues, saying they would provide safeguards for the public.


Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, who once represented the marina area before she was defeated by ex-Supervisor Deane Dana, said the county must keep in mind that the harbor provides recreational opportunities that cannot be overlooked in planning for the future.

And Yaroslavsky noted that the county must be careful not to always speak of maximizing its revenue from the marina at the expense of environmental values. He cautioned that the county cannot proceed with plans to allow 22-story buildings around parts of the harbor if that means gridlocking every major highway and street in western Los Angeles.

“It’s going to have to be a balance,” Yaroslavsky said.

Backing the marina plan in its original form were members of the Marina del Rey Lessees Assn. and the area’s Chamber of Commerce.

In the face of the unanimous supervisorial vote, Barna Szabo, lobbyist for the lessees association, said he was pleased that the board had adopted a redevelopment plan. But he suggested that developers “are not going to play poker” with the county in the marina unless both sides win.

Similarly, John MacLaurin, a developer and member of the county Small Craft Harbor Commission appointed by Knabe, endorsed the strategy, saying that it will allow the marina to compete more favorably with newer developments in the immediate area.

But John Rizzo, president of the Marina Tenants Assn. and a longtime critic of the county’s handling of the harbor, continued to protest that the supervisors have given away tens of millions of dollars to the leaseholders over the years. “Do you believe in transferring all the money to the rich?” he asked.


David Naftalin, the group’s attorney, told the supervisors that $50 million a year was “not being extracted from this prized asset” and he warned that if any lease extensions are granted, it would amount to an illegal gift of public funds.


New Vision for the Marina

The strategy for Marina del Rey’s futre, approved by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, includes two areas where intensive redevelopment will take place. The first, on the east side of the marina (upper right) would consist of a waterfront with stores, restaurants and entertainment uses, plus pedestrian promenades. The second would be a resort, hotel, restaurant and retail area surrounding Mother’s Beach. A separate plan calls for high-rise residential, office and hotel developments.

Sources: Los Angeles County