Strange Political Tradition in Marina del Rey

[Full disclosure:  While this columnist has been doing fact checking, and file organization work for the Marian (del Rey, CA) Tenants Association, the thought occurred that a collection of tidbits might be of interest to the folks outside the Los Angeles enclave because a quick recapitulation of some of the top news briefs might serve as a paradigm for all the examples of antagonism in contemporary American culture which exist among/between voters, journalist, and politicians of all parties.  Lest any reader make the assumption that some of this column has been fictionalized in an attempt to achieve humor, we will insert the boring academic style citations that prove “we’re not making this stuff up.”]

On August 13, 1961, on page one of the Los Angeles Examiner, Jack Keating, under the headline “County’s New Giveaway Deals” wrote:  “Something is DEAD WRONG with concession leasing and land deals under Los Angeles County’s multi-million dollar recreation program that leaves the door wide open for the Board of Supervisors to give favored parties ‘special treatment.’”  The story suggested:  “The need for a major shakeup in policies of the county board is indicated.”

In “The Urban Marina:  Managing and Developing Marina del Rey” written by Marsha V. Rood and Robert Warren (for the Center fro Urban affairs Sea Grant Program and published by USC) notes, on page 36, that at the same time the Express was questioning the possibility of Giveaway Deals: “In August 1961, the Small Property Owners League of Los Angeles County and the Venice Canal Improvement Association asked by letter that the County Grand Jury investigate the propriety, if not the legality, of a number of the Marina’s aspects, . . .”  On page 37, readers learn “No Grand Jury action was taken on the request.”

In the forward to the study, published in 1974, it was stated:  “No explicit decision was made on the basis of public debate to transform the recreational boating facility into a multi-million dollar regional activity center with predominantly land-oriented development.”

In the Thirties, the Army Corps of Engineering held a hearing to explore the possibility of building a man made marina on the Western edge of Los Angeles County.  When Mrs. Edmund S. Fuller, of the National Audubon Society, wanted to discuss the seventy three species of birds in the area, she was informed the Army Corps of Engineer’s weren’t authorized to consider environmental issues.  The tradition of evading public input had been established two decades before the ceremonial first shovelful of dirt had been excavated.

After the formal dedication ceremony was held in 1965, the locals immediately began the tradition of squabbling with the politicians.  Boat owners fought slip rate increases and, after a series of rapid rent increases, area residents formed a Tenants Association to advocate a need for rent control.

By June of 1979, when the County Board of Supervisors faced the issue of a proposal to impose controls in the county’s incorporated areas, the Los Angeles Times wrote an editorial on June 1, which noted:  “Like other attempts to limit rents, it would be a snare and a delusion.” 

On that same day, James A. Hayes, the area’s representative on the County Board of Supervisors, resigned without a word of explanation.  On the following day, Saturday June 2, 1979, Bill Boyarsky, in a front page story for the Los Angeles Times, said:  “Nobody answered the door at Hayes’ home in the expensive Palos Verdes community of Rolling Hills.  And he had changed his home phone number, effective Friday.  Aides said he had left on an out-of-state vacation.”

Governor Jerry Brown replaced Hayes with Yvonne Burke and she was quickly replaced in the next election, by Deane Dana and things returned to the traditional method of being handled.  By October of 1981, Steve Coll writing in the L. A. Weekly (Vol. 3 No. 47) noted that the voters had been stymied:   “The developers are getting away with murder,” says Seymour Kern, a member of the 1980 – 81 grand jury and chairman of a subcommittee that investigated the rents the county charges developers at Marina del Rey, only to find that the Department of Small Craft Harbors had precluded any action through rulings favorable to the developers.”

In a move to pull an end run on the Board of Supervisors, Marina residents mounted a grass roots effort to establish cityhood.  Their efforts were quickly neutralized.  Mark Gladstone (L. A. Times March 14, 1985) explained how:  “For the second time in less than a year, a legislative attempt has been launched that could block Marina del Rey residents from forming their own city.

“A bill, introduced last week by Sen. William Lockyer (D-Hayward), would prevent residents from taking preliminary steps toward incorporation in areas where less than 50% of the land is privately owned.

“Marina del Rey, an 800-acre waterfront community with at least 8,500 residents, is almost entirely owned by Los Angeles County.”

Later in 1985, (L. A. Weekly Vol. 7 No. 52) an article headlined “The Selling of L. A. County” offered a special investigative report into the effects of campaign donations on county land-use practices by Ron Curran and Lewis MacAdams, with the subhead:  “Developers in L. A. County are giving record amounts of money to the Board of Supervisors and getting in return virtually everything they request.”

The article started (Page 24) by saying: “For some years now it has been common knowledge in political circles that the Board of Supervisors, notably the three conservative members who form a majority, have been massively underwritten by the contributions of land developers eager to have their way in the county with as little interference as possible.”

That same issue also contained a sidebar story on Page 28 “The Million-Dollar Loophole” with the subhead “How the Supervisors get away with ‘legalized sleaze.’”  It said:  “‘You know why you won’t find any illegal sleaze around the supervisors?’ asks Carlyle Hall, director of the Center for Law in the Public Interest.  ‘Because they’ve legalizd all the sleaze.’”

Occasionally some outsiders tried to insinuate themselves into the local scene.  One 1988 article (L. A. Weekly for June 17 – 23 1988 Vol. 10 No. 30) titled “Backroom Moves,” written by Ron Curran, was promoted this way: “Alan Robbins the controversial Valley pol, is up to his neck in shady Marina deals.”  Curran casually explained:  “But it is Robbin’s less-reported power plays to protect and enhance his substantial investments in Marina del Rey – including a recent secret attempt to buy a community newspaper that has scrutinized Marina real-estate projects from which he stands to make million of dollars – that most graphically reinforce criticisms that Robbins spends more of his political time and effort serving his personal interests than serving the interests of his community.”

Could anything shady happen in the late Eighties without BCCI (Bank of Credit and Commerce International) being involved?  Glad you asked because they got in on the action, too, but the local political methodology caused them to quickly opt out.  Jeffrey L. Rabin, writing in the Los Angeles Times (March 19, 1991) put it this way:  “A group of wealthy Saudi Arabian investors have filed suit to dissolve their partnership with Marina del Rey’s biggest developer, accusing Abraham M. Lurie of engaging in fraud since selling them a 49.9% stake in his extensive Marina holdings nearly two years ago.”

In a 1991 page one story (Vol. 13 No. 21), the Los Angeles Business Journal story written by Michael Stremfel and Benjamin Mark Cole, informed readers:  “The unfolding BCCI-Marina del Rey scandal, and an increasing realization that the city and county of Los Angeles often literally do not know with whom they are doing business, last week spurred a wide spread call for reform of local public-disclosure laws.”

The following year, it was the Los Angeles Times singing the same old journalists song.  A three part series started on April 12, 1992 with a headline “Marina del Rey Prospers at Expense of County” followed by the subhead:  “Developers make big profits thorough favorable long-term leases.  Public services lose out.”  An editorial, which ran about the same time, added:  “Nowhere is the arrogant ‘sit-down-and-shut-up’ method of governance on better display than at the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration.”

A 1994 story in the Los Angeles Times on August 11, written by Fredrick M. Muir and Jeffrey L. Rabin carried the headline:  “Grand Jury Asks D. A. to Review Leases at Marina.” 

In 1997, the Arab Sheik was gone. 

In the year 2000, a meager handful of journalists struggled to continue their role in the squabbling.  On January 6, the L. A. Times carried a story headlined:  “County Extends Political Donor’s Leases in Marina.”  A few days later columnist Patt Morrison’s column carried an old refrain:  “Sweetheart Deals Are a Hallowed L.A. Tradition.”

Things have quieted down considerably in the era of “fair and balanced” journalism and there are only occasional hints that some people still value the Marina’s traditions.

One of the latest (last?) efforts to carry on the nearly half century old effort to question the possibility that something is wrong was reported, by Helga Gendell, in the Argonaut newspaper on September 29, 2005, (page 4):  “The suit alleges that certain Marina lessees have been unjustly enriched at the expense of the county and taxpayers, and that lessee campaign contributions and payments to lobbyists to influence the Board of Supervisors may have created a climate under which no price control existed due to a concert of action between the county and the lessees.”

Currently the lawyer who filed that suit, has to deal with other developments which grew out of the effort.  He has been disbarred (and is fighting that move) and is in jail for contempt.  See the Superior Court Ninth District’s case no. 09-56073 for the latest news on how that is going.

A hotel, which is being considered to replace a public beach, heads a list of new items waiting to be approved for construction in Marina del Rey.  The local newspapers the Argonaut and the Venice Beachhead seem to be the only media available to hold up the journalists’ participation in the continual squabbling.

Perhaps Los Angeles magazine’s assignment editor will read this column and hire a highly qualified investigative reporter (snarky columnists need not apply) to do a comprehensive update on the questions that have been being asked for 48 years. 

Some traditionalists might suggest that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors should adopt one of James Cagney’s quotes as their motto:  “Where I come from, if there’s a buck to be made, you don’t ask questions, you go ahead and make it.”

Now, of course our disk jockey is going to play us out with George Strait’s song “Marina del Rey,” but there are bonus points if you know why it’s appropriate that he’s also going to play both “And That Reminds Me” and “Don’t You Know,” which were monster hits for Della Reese.  Like James Hayes, we’ll disappear.

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