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Plan Puts Marina in Fast Lane

Times Staff Writer

At a smidgen over 1.5 miles long, the Marina Freeway is the shortest freeway in Los Angeles County. It’s notable for another reason as well: It doesn’t actually go to the place for which it’s named.

In fact, this lightly traveled spit of road has long been viewed as the freeway that starts nowhere and ends nowhere but at least doesn’t take long to traverse.

The county, which owns Marina del Rey, wants to change that -- the part about the road’s going nowhere, that is. With the county planning a massive redevelopment of the marina and with traffic in the area growing ever more congested, plans are afoot to extend the east-west Marina Freeway past Lincoln Boulevard and directly into the marina, allowing motorists to avoid that often jammed thoroughfare.

Traffic-weary residents have vowed to fight the idea.

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“It’s nothing but a ploy to open the door to the argument that we should continue to build higher and higher buildings,” said Mark Winter, a board member of the Marina Peninsula Neighborhood Assn., a residents group. “The county is in for a real war.”

It’s a war that is about more than simply extending the freeway. Marina del Rey is at the beginning of a building boom that is expected to remake the area’s skyline with new high-rise hotels and dense mixed-use complexes.

With a slew of new condo towers and office buildings also planned in nearby Playa Vista, Century City and Beverly Hills, many residents expect the Westside’s notoriously bad traffic to drastically worsen.

In recent years, the once hip-and-happening marina has seen visitors gravitate toward other locales, including Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, the Grove shopping center in the Fairfax district and even Los Angeles’ reinvigorated downtown.

The county projects that the marina this fiscal year will bring in $33.6 million in rent and concessions, 10% of total gross receipts of $337 million. Officials say both figures should be much higher.

One way to raise more money, they figure, is to remake the marina with thousands more apartments and condos as well as new hotels and refurbished boat slips, beaches and retail centers. One of many attractions poised for a makeover is Fisherman’s Village, Marina del Rey’s outmoded seaside collection of shops and restaurants, which will add a 132-room boutique hotel. Marina Beach, known locally as Mother’s Beach, is also expected to get a major revamping.

About 50 leaseholders operate on long-term contracts in the marina. The county is renegotiating and extending leases to encourage leaseholders to upgrade existing 1960s-era apartments, restaurants, hotels and shops or to build new projects, with the aim of making the marina a more attractive destination.

Developer Douglas Ring, a longtime leaseholder, has torn down two 1960s-vintage apartment complexes and is building 1,022 units with waterside marinas.

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The scope of the redevelopment has rankled residents and neighbors, who say the county appears bent on turning the marina into a dense mini-Manhattan. Some of the projects, critics say, not only would dramatically alter the marina’s character but also would tamper with its essence as a boaters’ haven.

Critics say one proposed hotel and time-share tower, the 225-foot-tall Woodfin Suites Hotel, would block the wind in a critical part of the channel. The hotel’s developer acknowledged after wind-tunnel tests that changes in wind direction and magnitude would occur in “localized areas.”

“The reason that Marina del Rey is different from everyplace else is that we have boats here and boater recreation,” said Don Klein, a founder of the Coalition to Save the Marina, a nonprofit group.

“We don’t want high-rises that block out the horizon and the wind. It’s totally wrong.”

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Battling development is nothing new for marina residents. In the early 1970s, they and neighbors helped stop the Marina Freeway in its shortened tracks. Partly as a result, the freeway remains a bit of an oddity, as Southern California routes go.

It was envisioned as the Slauson Freeway, running through southern Los Angeles County and northern Orange County.

For various reasons, long stretches of the freeway were canceled, with the result that much of California 90 is mere highway.

The freeway portions of California 90 consist of two unjoined segments: the Marina Freeway and Expressway on the Westside and, nearly 50 miles east, the 2.3-mile Richard M. Nixon Parkway in Yorba Linda, Nixon’s birthplace.

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The short leg near the marina, built in stages between 1968 and 1972, was briefly named the Richard M. Nixon Freeway. After the Watergate scandal prompted Nixon’s resignation, it was renamed the Marina Freeway.

As the county pushes forward with its marina plans, foremost on the minds of traffic engineers is realigning and extending the Marina Expressway to Admiralty Way, the marina’s four-lane beltway.

County officials say the projects would ease congestion on city streets while creating an inviting entrance into the marina.

“There are really no other roadway improvements left on the Westside except for this,” said Barry Kurtz, a transportation engineer with the county Department of Beaches and Harbors.

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Although businesses and developers applaud the freeway extension and possible addition of a lane or two on Admiralty Way, many residents are distressed.

“Why would anybody have a five-lane highway coming into a marina?” Klein asked. “That’s ridiculous.”

Michael Rosenfeld, a longtime marina resident, said traffic has diminished his quality of life. Getting from his house on the marina’s west side to the Marina Freeway can take as long as 25 minutes; 25 years ago he could travel to the 405 Freeway in less than eight minutes.

“The proposed extension of the Marina Freeway will certainly bring more vehicles into an already congested area, with no relief in sight,” Rosenfeld said.

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The battle over the extension mirrors the larger debate over increased development in Marina del Rey and other areas of the Westside.

In Century City, developers want to erect several luxury condo buildings, including two 47-story towers and a 39-story tower. A few blocks east, residential towers are planned for the Robinsons-May site in Beverly Hills, one of several new projects in that city.

“When I moved here, the charm of the marina appealed to me,” said Karen Curreri, 53, a boat owner who has lived in the marina for six years but is contemplating a move.

“The temperament of the easy-going beach-type atmosphere is quickly going,” Curreri added. “If you came here on the weekend, people are yelling, screaming and fighting over parking spaces.”

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Part of the problem is that neighboring areas within the city of Los Angeles have seen an explosion of private development in recent years. In addition to Playa Vista, just south of the marina, several high-rises have risen along Lincoln Boulevard and hundreds of apartment and condo units are going up east of Lincoln.

The marina is last in line for development, and thus the county finds itself the focus of community ire.

“If other entities have been expanding or doing what locals consider excessive, that doesn’t take away our right to redevelop our land,” said Kerry Silverstrom, chief deputy director of the county’s Department of Beaches and Harbors.

“It’s about making Marina del Rey a destination for the people who live here.”

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Begin text of infobox

Marina Q&A;

Question: What road are we talking about?

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Answer: California 90 on the Westside consists of two parts. The 1.5-mile Marina Freeway runs between Slauson Avenue in southern Culver City and Culver Boulevard. From Culver, a separate section called the Marina Expressway runs for just under a mile to Lincoln Boulevard.

Q: Where would the extension run?

A: A proposed connector road would cross Lincoln Boulevard and enter the marina at one of three points: The northern alternative would go through what is now the Beverly Hills Rent-a-Car lot, just south of a Ralphs market near Marina Pointe Drive. The Basin F option would enter just opposite that anchorage. The third option is at Bali Way. The connector would link the freeway directly with Admiralty Way, a four-lane road that skirts the marina. The county is considering adding a lane or two -- either by re-striping or constructing additional width -- so that Admiralty Way could handle traffic from new and planned development.

Q: What’s the history of Marina del Rey?

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A: It was launched in 1954, when President Eisenhower signed Public Law 780, authorizing the marina harbor as a federal project. The federal commitment was limited to the “main navigational features” and involved a 50-50 sharing of costs with Los Angeles County. After a series of delays, the harbor was formally dedicated in April 1965.

Q: What new projects or redevelopments are planned?

A: More than two dozen projects have been completed, are under construction or are wending their way through the county’s multi-step approval process. They include the 225-foot Woodfin Suites Hotel on the marina’s last undeveloped parcel; a new Marriott Residence Inn; the redevelopment of Fisherman’s Village, including a new boutique hotel; and a revamping of Marina, or Mother’s, Beach.

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Source: Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, Times reporting

Graphics reporting by Martha Groves


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