Between a ramp and a hard place
Redondo Beach’s waterfront revitalization will finally bring a boat ramp to King Harbor. But it could squeeze groups such as the Lanakila Outrigger Canoe Club out of the picture
by David Mendez
With about 10 minutes to go before the end of District 2 Councilman Bill Brand’s community meeting to discuss the placement of a boat ramp in King Harbor, the public’s tone took a hard turn.
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“When are you going to start working for us?” one attendee shouted at Redondo Beach staff.
“You serve CenterCal. Let’s get this straight.” another one yelled.
Redondo Beach city staff, including Assistant City Manager Mike Witznansky and Director of Waterfront and Economic Development Stephen Proud, could do little more than sigh as the room filled with irate yelling from opponents of CenterCal’s “Waterfront: Redondo Beach” revitalization project.
Brand organized the meeting to discuss the waterfront plans for a public boat ramp in King Harbor.
It’s notable that few of those shouts came from the members of the Lanakila Outrigger Club. The members of Lanakila, who showed in such great numbers that they organized a post-meeting pizza party outside the Redondo Beach Main Library after the meeting’s end, filled the room with such an imposing presence that Rescue Our Waterfront co-founder Nils Nehrenheim called them “a sea of angry red shirts” in his comments against the CenterCal project.
A day later, Lanakila club president Moses Ramler shook his head.
“I don’t know if I’d categorize us as ‘angry,’ but we were definitely a sea of red shirts in there,” he said.
The members of Lanakila are the latest members of the Redondo Beach waterfront community to feel squeezed by city plans to shove a boat ramp somewhere within the harbor, something that Redondo Beach staff admits even they don’t want to do.
But due to a mandate from the California Coastal Commission, a ramp is required if the City wants to make any changes to King Harbor. Lanakila could be most impacted, as their home at Moonstone Park is considered a likely boat ramp site.
The problem is that, in today’s King Harbor, there’s simply no place to build a boat ramp that doesn’t impact a current use.
“History tells us a few things,” said Jon Moore, of Noble Consultants, who has been working with the City on numerous boat launch plans. “Since the 1960s, the harbor’s small site and established land and water uses have created challenges for the development of a suitable boat launch facility.”
According to Moore, hindsight is clear: If the City had planned for a boat launch in 1963, when King Harbor was constructed, they wouldn’t be having this issue today.
“Basins I and II would have been preferred, because of their superior shelter, distance from traffic lanes and water use patterns,” Moore said. “The harbor could have then developed around it, and then we’d be happily ever after.”
Basins I and II ultimately became the homes to the King Harbor and Port Royal Marinas, while Basin III — along the International Boardwalk — is the current home to many commercial and private boats.
That leaves four moles, structures usually made of stone and used as piers, breakwaters or causeways, as the options for construction. But each of the four, A, B, C, and D, have their own challenges.
King Harbor Yacht Club is well-established at Mole A, with at least a decade left on its lease, and would need to be moved if a ramp were installed on that location.
As King Harbor Boaters Advisory Panel chairman Mark Hansen notes, Mole A is also the only land area in the harbor that faces direct impacts from storm waves. It is also one of the busiest areas in the harbor, with numerous clubs, boats and small craft launching out of Basin I.
Mole C was, at one time, the preferred location for the boat ramp. It was included in CenterCal’s original design documents and drawings as recently as in June drawings submitted to the City’s Harbor Commission, and was repeatedly championed by boaters.
This mole leads directly into the South Turning Basin, allowing for greater staging space for boaters, and its location just off of Portofino Way provides potential for convenient vehicle access.
But seafood chain Joe’s Crab Shack currently sits at the proposed site with a lease on the land that still has 13 years left.
“If we were to force it now, it would cost the city a lot of money,” Witznansky said. “Joe’s has a lot of leverage. It could cost the city millions.”
Mole D would face no such site control issues. The land is owned by the city and faces no long term leases on the property. Staff’s concerns with this mole as a ramp site include navigational issues, construction costs, and the potential bifurcation of the city’s waterfront.
“In the long run, the goal is to have connectivity; the Coastal Commission is interested in public access,” Witznansky said at a boat ramp siting meeting earlier this year. “Not just boating access, but pedestrian access, vehicle access and bikeability are in their purview and their concern.”
It’s also worth noting that Mole D is home to much of CenterCal’s proposed project, including its highly-touted market hall.
With those ramp sites out, that leaves Mole B. But the original design for the site included the ramp on the south side of the Mole, impacting Harbor Patrol operations and creating navigational challenges in a densely-packed Basin II. That led city staff to rule out that design, and Mole B as a whole, from the CenterCal Waterfront Draft EIR.
Thus it was a surprise when staff brought back a design for Mole B, with the ramp launching from the north side, during a June meeting of the City’s Harbor Commission. The design worries boaters for the same reason the Mole A launch did — the channel out of Basin I is among the most highly-trafficked in the harbor.
But the people of Lanakila are worried that they’ll lose their home.
Lanakila is ohana (family, in Hawaiian) to its members. Ramler is a native of the Big Island, who moved to L.A. for college in 1997. Lanakila gave him a path back to his roots, as his family paddles outriggers back home.
It’s done the same for much of its members over its 46 years in Redondo. Al Ching founded the club in 1970.
“We’re recreational boat use at its finest,” Ramler said. “It’s a great service to the community; not just in Redondo, but people inland and up and down the coast who love our organization or been connected.”
Lanakila boasts more than 300 active members in its ranks, and organizes races from May to September. But the size of the canoes can pose a storage problem, ranging anywhere from 19 to 45 feet in length.
Currently, Lanakila operates on about 17,000 square feet of space, including storage and staging for their canoes. The latest drawings for Mole B’s ramp reduced Lanakila to 9,000 square feet, which Ramler believes is untenable.
The terms of the club’s lease with the city, however, are ill-defined. As Witznansky described, the original paperwork has been lost, and no one knows exactly how much space the club has been allotted.
Mayor Steve Aspel is adamant, however, that Lanakila will not be displaced.
“Neither the city nor I want them to go anywhere or to lose any space,” Aspel said. “The City’s looked the other way [on their lease] because we love having them there…but they’re not going to get screwed on this deal, period.”
King Harbor, Aspel said, was not designed with future-proofing in mind. “[Designers] weren’t thinking in terms of what kind of recreational activities we were going to have in the next millennium,” he said. “People have got to learn how to accommodate everyone even though it wasn’t designed for everybody.”
Brand believes that Mole B is unsafe, and that the City shouldn’t simply settle on a ramp plan to accommodate the CenterCal project.
“We need to keep our options open until the location of all of these recreational uses are determined before we move forward on a project that will potentially squeeze them out,” he said. “The proper location for the ramp is taking second fiddle to individual interests, and it’s in the least desirable place.”
City staff says they’ve looked at the project from every possible angle, including not having a ramp at all.
“But every indication in every meeting over the last few years is that the Coastal Commission very much wants us to install a ramp as part of any significant development in the harbor,” Witznansky said.
For now, the City is left with only what the Coastal Commission will allow them to do, as they try to accommodate the city’s outrigger canoe clubs while ensuring a boat ramp at Mole B has enough parking to meet demand.
“We’re trying to get the uses to balance across themselves on Mole B,” Proud said. “But what’s driving that is policy that’s been directed in our local coastal plans.”
What Ramler is fighting for as Lanakila’s club president is not just balance, but his club’s home.
“This is our park; we use this like anyone who loves baseball, and can go play baseball at a park at any time,” Ramler said. “That’s our fight. We’re trying to find a home and make it permanent.”