Letter: Marina del Rey Public Boat Launch Is a Disaster Evacuation Site

(Editor’s note: L.A. City Administrative Officer Matthew Szabo released an August 10 feasibility study stating that several City beaches and parks – including Will Rogers State Beach — were not good locations for proposed homeless villages. But Councilman Mike Bonin’s proposal left under consideration a Marina del Rey site used to launch boats for law enforcement and fire personnel, a the Dockweiler RV lot, Los Angeles World Airport Land and a Culver City parking lot on the table. 

Greg Schem, a Pacific Palisades resident and president of the Marina del Rey Lessees Association, sent the October 17 letter below to the Board of Supervisors.)

The Marina del Rey Public Boat Launch Ramp is one of only a few locations in Los Angeles County designated as a major air disaster evacuation site.

At its meeting of October 13, 2021, the Small Craft Harbor Commission voted unanimously its opposition to the proposed use of the County-owned Public Boat Launch Ramp (Lot 2 at 13477 Fiji Way) in Marina del Rey for homeless housing.

The Commission requested that the City of Los Angeles conduct a community impact study in addition to the site feasibility report that the City prepared.

Of the four remaining sites under consideration, two of the sites, including the launch ramp, are not in Council District 11, while the other two sites are a state-owned beach and property at the Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA)-owned site that would require approval from the FAA.

Apparently, the CAO believes the burden of providing housing and services for the homeless should fall primarily to areas outside the boundary of Council District 11.

The Harbor Commission requested that a full public hearing be held prior to the consideration of using the launch ramp for tiny homes for the unhoused. During two meetings of the Commission, including one on September 8, not one person spoke in favor of the City’s proposed homeless housing at the launch ramp.

The CAO report claims that the launch ramp (Lot 2 at 13477 Fiji Way) is an underutilized parking lot, thereby either failing to understand or completely ignoring, whether willfully or not, the significance of the site as a major evacuation site and a helicopter landing zone for emergency services.

To date, there is no evidence that the City (or even the County of Los Angeles) has considered that the contemplated “temporary” homeless housing at the Public Boat Launch Ramp would be in conflict with LAWA’s FAA-approved Air/Sea Disaster Plan for LAX. The Air/Sea Disaster Plan identifies the launch ramp as a “major evacuation site.” The obvious concerns of LAWA, FAA, the first responders, such as the Coast Guard and local fire and law enforcement, ought to be uppermost in mind.

The Public Boat Launch Ramp is one of only a few locations in Los Angeles County designated as a major air disaster evacuation site.  Given its close proximity to LAX’s primary airline takeoff pattern over the Pacific Ocean and the Marina’s abundance of first responder personnel and equipment (i.e., Coast Guard, LA County Fire, Sheriff and Lifeguard stations are all located in the Marina and a hospital is located on the Marina’s perimeter), Lot 2 would undoubtedly serve as the primary emergency evacuation site in the event of a major air disaster.

If Lot 2 contained a small village housing the homeless, imagine the unnecessary chaos that would ensue when first responders rush to mobilize at the facility following a catastrophic air disaster.  With these factors in mind, we conclude that LAWA, the FAA, the Coast Guard and LA County’s Sheriff, Fire and Lifeguard management could not have been duly consulted by the City of Los Angeles regarding this ill-advised proposal for the use of the launch ramp.

A community impact study must also include an assessment of the risk to public safety in placing homeless housing on a major public boat launch ramp facility, where trailers, heavy machinery and watercraft vessels are operated and backed into the water.

Aside from its emergency disaster and evacuation uses, the Public Boat Launch Ramp’s unique function of providing low-cost access for recreational boating, amongst the most highly protected user group under the California Coastal Act, has not been given suitable consideration.

It would be misguided to disenfranchise members of the boating public, many of whom use the Marina’s launch ramp as a lower-cost recreational boating facility and have no other reasonable option to gain access to the ocean for the boats.

Locating housing at the Lot 2 public launch ramp would be in conflict with long-standing Coastal Commission policies and practice, including the Marina del Rey Land Use Plan certified by the Coastal Commission on February 8, 2012, and the Marina del Rey Specific Plan adopted on March 20, 2012. Neither the Land Use Plan nor the Specific Plan, which include the Waterfront Overlay Zone, permit a residential use of the property that is reserved primarily for a combination of visitor-serving, boating or marine commercial uses.

As the Board of Supervisors continues its annual adoption of a shelter crisis declaration, the Association requests the consideration of the various reasons that the Lot 2 launch ramp remains an improper and unsupportable location to provide shelter to homeless persons.

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