Fisherman’s Village fate clouded with doubt

Fisherman’s Village fate clouded with doubt

MARINA DEL REY— As an eerie Friday afternoon marine layer hovers over the New England-esque shopping district known as Fisherman’s Village, Plinio “PJ” Garcia’s outlook of the village rolls heavy with concern and hesitant hope.

“If you’re a tourist, everyone thinks Fisherman’s Village is what American fisherman are all about,” he explained. “If I were European I would look at this place and say ‘How do we make this nicer?’ Not how do we redevelop it.”

On Saturdays and Sundays, jazz, salsa and rock bands draw crowds to the site, hundreds of people line the walkways and, according to Garcia, 50 to 60 tourists between flights arrive on buses which stop frequently in front of the village’s parking lot.
But the weekdays are hit or miss as tourists bypass the waterfront shopping center for more revitalized destinations.

A look back    

Marina del Rey, the unincorporated seaside village, which was formally dedicated in 1965, is home to more than 6,000 boats. The same year it opened, Fisherman’s Village became a bustling spot for tourists, boaters and patrons seeking a place to shop and a bite to eat.

Through the years, the village has endured the typical wear-and-tear and transient tenants. While owned by the county, the property is leased by Gold Coast Village, LLC, and operated by Pacific Ocean Management (POM), an entity partially controlled by Michael Pashaie. The group has owned the lease since December of 1998.

Pat Younis, a consultant for The Bridge Group, has worked as a manager in Marina del Rey for several years. She said, throughout her time at the marina there have been several proposals made in relation to a possible revitalization of the village.
“I think there’s no question that it needs updating considerably,” Younis said. “There have been several plans put forth that did not go through that included the remodeling. Some plans included demo, some included a remodel. I think that the goal overall was to demo the site and build it.”

Younis said Parcel 56, the small landing where Fisherman’s Village currently sits, along with the adjacent waterfront area, is leased through POM. She said the parcel does not include Whiskey Reds, a bordering restaurant on the south end of the village and the nearby fuel dock. The size, she added, has limited what remodeling can be done. POM additionally leases the neighboring dock system. She stressed that the boat launch is run by the county and they can dictate its fate.

Envisioning a new plan    

An anticipated Visioning Plan, which was first proposed by the county in April 2013, was fashioned after county staff met with several members of the public, along with representatives from the Regional Planning Commission, Small Craft Harbor Commission and Design Control Board, to address concerns and ideas regarding future development in Marina del Rey.
According to the official plan, goals have included developing activity districts, improving mobility and directional signage, enhancing the image of the marina and furthering recreational opportunities and public gathering spaces.

The document proposes the addition of a new retail center, improvements in traffic flow and the relocation of the marina’s existing boat launch and storage facility to what county officials call “the area occupied by visitor-serving retail and commercial uses at the southerly end of Fiji Way.” The plan divides these ideas into four separate districts: Residential District, Marina Beach, Visitor’s Row, and Boater’s Way.

Gina Natoli, Los Angeles County’s Supervising Regional Planner, said the proposal doesn’t have any immediate impact on the village.

“It doesn’t have any impact on its lease. It doesn’t have any impacts on the tenants there,” she said. “What the visioning process has done is, in the future, there may be a way to reorganize a couple of the uses in the marina to make the marina a more vibrant, pleasant experience for visitors and residents.”

She confirmed a future boat launch ramp, currently off Admiralty Way, may be moved down a couple parcels to the spot currently occupied by Fisherman’s Village. The current boat launch would then become a visitor-serving commercial retail destination.
Implementation of the venture is projected to occur over both the short and long-term and will include a series of decisions based on individual projects, lease negotiations and policy changes, among other hurdles.

“It’s an opportunity for the county to determine, particularly with regards to Fisherman’s Village, what is the most appropriate and best way forward as we look toward the termination of that lease,” said Gary Jones, the acting director of the County of Los Angeles’ Department of Beaches and Harbors. “The uses on a daily basis we see there, not only the retailers, but the charter operators, the crews that use space along Fiji Way—is there a better way from a land use point of view to consolidate that?”
Garcia, who said he has attended several redevelopment seminars, is concerned with the overall plans, which he claimed are lacking a clear outline with any finite details.

“They just have these beautiful little circles that say residential zone, shopping zone, boaters area,” Garcia said. “Who’s going to argue with that? No one…Once you press [officials] and say that I have heard that they want to demolish Fisherman’s Village, they hesitate, stop, refer me to someone else, or actually say ‘Yes, we’re considering that so we can put parking and a public launch there.”’

The public dock behind and to the east of Fisherman’s Village is currently being used for boat storage and no one can dock their boat to visit the marina, according to Garcia.

“The Board of Supervisors has not indicated their approval of any of this yet,” Natoli said. “Really it doesn’t have any impact on Fisherman’s Village, at all. If there are impacts in the future, which could be by fall if the board decides they agree with the approach, it would include, at some point, putting the boat launch ramp down by the western part of Basin H and along the main channel.”

Natoli said a time frame of 10 to 15 years is expected due to existing leases on the Fisherman’s Village parcel. The land is regulated and managed by the Department of Regional Planning.

“There are leases and contracts with developers that must be honored,” she said. “There is currently a lease on the Fisherman’s Village parcel that I think goes through 2027…our plan would be to retain the charter boats there at the docks along the main channel. They would be accommodated if this moves forward.”

The parking lot in front of the Fisherman’s Village parcel would be a parking area for trailers and vehicles pulling in their boats, according to Natoli. Some travelers may have to park near the new visitor’s retail destination.

Rick Oefinger, a lessee of POM and president of Marina del Rey Sportfishing, said he has extreme concerns with where the redevelopment currently stands. He said he does not believe his business has been taken into consideration, and he has had a difficult time receiving any solid answers from county officials.

“Their boss and my landlords have a plan for Fisherman’s Village that included us in pretty much our current state,” Oefinger said. “If nothing else, we were included and had a home. And with this county thing, I don’t know what’s going to become of us.”
The loss of Dock 52 at Boat Central, where Oefinger’s passengers currently board, to a stack storage is concerning to him. With the new visioning plan proposing the ramp at the Fisherman’s Village location, Oefinger said he is unsure of the future. He mentioned he has never been shown a picture or any documentation of the plans for Marina del Rey Sportfishing.

“I think that we are probably the largest water-born service in Marina del Rey. We take 20,000-plus people out on the water a year. I don’t think anyone comes close to having that many customers,” he said. “My biggest concern with all this development is our parking and adequate live-bait facilities. They’re two very important segments of sport fishing. We need adequate parking within easy walking distance of where our boats disembark.

“The reason being is that, if you visualize on a Sunday morning, when 90 people may get off a boat, each person has a sack of four or five barracuda and sand basses. How do those people get to where they parked their cars? You can’t put those people on a shuttle with normal tourists. We need close parking.”

According to a Relocation Concept summary on the Harbor and Beaches website, the launch facility would remain the same size and a new parking lot on these parcels would provide room for 223 car/trailer spaces.

The Department of Beaches and Harbors teamed with Noble Consultants, Inc., a civil engineering entity which deals with harbor-related workings, to examine the viability of moving the boat launch ramp. The findings concluded that full use of Parcels 54, 55, 56, 61 and W would be needed to follow through on the relocation.

Lost plans   

Younis touched briefly on Pashaie and the co-owner’s proposed plans which have been presented in recent months at public outreach meetings.

“The county had seen all those drawings,” she said. “It’s not just drawing pretty pictures. You’ve got to negotiate a very difficult lease. None of that went forward because of the fact visioning was in process. The public did not know what was going to come out of regional planning until it came out.”

Natoli said no official proposal from Pashaie has been delivered to the Department of Regional Planning.

“They proposed pictures at a couple of meetings,” she said. “Apparently, they were conceptual because they have not come forward. This lessee has never come forward over the last 15 years to submit a plan for redevelopment of Fisherman’s Village.”

While some current tenants have been vocal with the overall scope of the proposal, the idea of relocation or complete destruction of the retail center remains an obvious apprehension.

“I think the overall reaction for pretty much everything is shock,” Younis said. “The relocation of the launch ramp was never discussed during the entire time of outreach by regional planning. I think people were pretty surprised.”

Room for growth  

Nestled behind the multi-tinted retail venue, in front of the weathered docks, floats a fleet of charter and party boats, along with a parasailing rental service and Marina del Rey Sportfishing, the longstanding gateway to whale watching tours and fishing excursions.

Indy Plush, a boutique, owned by Garcia and three of his partners, specializing in plush toys created with sustainable and eco-friendly materials, sits within a corridor on the south end of the petite market, just beyond the towering azure and pallid lighthouse—now famous for its appearance in television shows such as “Arrested Development” and “Revenge.”

Garcia’s Indy Plush moved into a spacious unit December 1 and currently maintains a three-year lease. He said he asked for an option to extend it, but wasn’t given it by property management. Despite the setback, he said business has gone relatively well.
“Once we moved in, we started learning a lot about what’s going on in the area,” Garcia said. “That’s when I was taken aback, when I learned they were trying to destroy the place and not redevelop.”

Despite the uncertainty, a flood of retail entities have moved into the village recently, according to Garcia, and there has been a renaissance that has attracted travelers from as far away as Australia, China and England.

“They come in and they’re shocked,” Garcia said. “They poke their head in my window and wonder if we’re a store, because people have told them that nothing is here. They come in and we start talking to them and they’re in awe.”

Garcia said a non-disclosure lease is required of the tenants at the village and that management has the ability to enforce a 90-day notice at anytime. He said he has had interest from people with boutiques as far away as Paris, the south of France, and all over Europe to set up shop in Fisherman’s Village.

“They’d love to have a boutique here, but they’ve heard the leases are short. They don’t want to put in the investment.”                 The village itself is home to five restaurants—including mainstay El Torito—several retail shops, four vacant units and four storage units. The contiguous docks house Hornblower Cruises, Tiki Mermaid Charters, a group of party boats, and whale watching yachts.

In July 2013, Pam Stanley achieved a “45-year dream,” opening Pammy’s Place, a cozy retailer selling tiny trinkets and artistic creations built by 36 local artists. After spending a career in a hospital laboratory, Stanley acquired the space from a friend who formerly used it as a pottery studio.

“The next thing I knew I was in here scrapping clay off the wall,” Stanley said. “It came together so perfectly I was almost skeptical. People started showing up at the door with their artwork desperate for a place to present their art. It just snowballed into this situation.”

However, when the fall and winter months hit, business plummeted. Her shop, which operates Thursday through Sunday, suffered from restrictions such as not being able to house sandwich boards and retail tables outside the shop.

“I’m still struggling, to be quite honest,” Stanley said. “I think the village could use some kind of signage and major support for the businesses that are here…what’s lacking is a directory or signage that says ‘Hey, Pammy’s Place is down here, Indy plush is down here.’ People are so used to not coming down this way, because everything was closed up.”

Stanley said more retailers are moving in the area, including a candy shop and a soap boutique. The Marina del Rey Historical Society also recently moved into a unit facing Fiji Way.

“There’s a resurgence going on which I’m thrilled about,” she said. “What’s lacking is we just need support from the county. We’re very restricted on what we can and cannot do.”

Walking past Thai Garden and Daniel’s Bicycle Rental and Sales, into a dimly lit walkway, the light reflecting off the marina’s turquoise sea is blinding. At the center of a waterfront unit sits Next Wave Art Gallery, owned by Hannah Hempstead.                 Hempstead said she is encouraged by the amount of shops opening up and is pleased that the owners have been selective with who they offer leases to. She added that a friend is attempting to move in and open a store called Ship Shape, a shop for all things nautical.

“I’m up for revitalization,” she said. “I think the owners are really compassionate people and really into helping artists. I think that will continue.”

 The next step

Carol Baker of the Department of Beaches and Harbors Public Information Office said Marina del Rey will hold a Small Craft Harbor Commission meeting later this month to further discussions.

“A lot of that’s going to be focused on whether or not the launch ramp should be moved to Fisherman’s Village,” Baker said.
Natoli added: “We’re continuing to have outreach and we just met a couple of weeks ago with homeowners’ groups in the city of Los Angeles. We’re still meeting with groups and individuals who have the comments and would like to give us input in the process. By the end of summer, early fall, we’ll be making revisions that we feel are appropriate to make based on the input that we receive over the summer here. We’ll revise it if necessary and then take it to the Board of Supervisors to seek their approval for future developments such as this in Marina del Rey.”

While deliberations continue, Garcia said he would like to see change in the management and the county, encouraging the growth of the retail shops. He said he believes Fisherman’s Village has the opportunity to become a family destination once again.

“I think it will take the truth or the right information to come out to the public,” Garcia said. “When the county tells the public that Fisherman’s Village is dilapidated, would you want to redevelop? The answer is yes. Everyone wants to redevelop. But when I ask people do you want this destroyed or demolished, they say no. Everybody’s outraged and they ask what can we do?”                 Garcia said shop owners have spoken with the historical society, who is in the process of gathering signatures to take to the county to voice their opinions.

He added: “I’ve dealt with the county. If they have an agenda, they present it one way, and they do something else. That’s what is concerning.”

Jones said he certainly recognizes the tenants concerns, but he said businesses can expect that there will be a continued opportunity to thrive.

“While this is a visioning and looking at land use in concept, certainly it’s a factor for how we plan the marina for the future,” Jones said. “Is there a better way to provide parking for people that want to drive to the marina? Is there ability for the county to provide hubs, as the visioning statement is proposing, where there’s an opportunity for people to park and there will be modes of transportation for people to get around the marina?”

Oefinger, however, remains steadfast in seeking a more timely solution.

“Gary Jones and the people of the county just won’t give me an answer,” he said. “I get lip-service. They say they’re going to accommodate, but I’ve heard nothing positive. This new design for Fisherman’s Village never once came up in any of the visioning processes for the marina. This is something that sprung on us out of the dark—just out of the blue.”

A special night meeting of the Small Craft Harbor Commission is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 28 at Burton Chace Park’s Community Room; 13650 Mindanao Way in Marina del Rey.

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