Even Disney wonders what is wrong
It shouldn't be surprising that the main topic of boaters' conversations, by far, in the wake of this year's Transpacific Yacht Race is the decades-long disintegration of the docks in the Ala Wai Harbor.
After all, the visiting racers -- whether deckhands or boat owners that include Transpac veteran and movie producer Roy Disney -- are all accustomed to seeing hundreds of well-maintained marinas along the California coast.
So when they sailed into a dilapidated facility, "suffering from what seems to be almost malicious neglect," as Disney told me, instead of a boater's paradise, questions were sure to follow.
From my perspective, there are a number of factors that contribute to the problem, but they all relate to the most significant one: the state's bureaucratic management system, which is directed by the administration and controlled and financed by the Legislature.
Marina management becomes a political issue under such a system and decisions are too often made with elections in mind rather than basing them on sound business practices that involve supply and demand, fair market pricing and profit motives.
The managers at the Department of Land and Natural Resources readily admit that the income into the Boating Special Fund is insufficient for current dock maintenance, new construction and debt service on previous bond issues.
However, year after year, our political leaders are unable or unwilling to make the changes needed that might resolve the matter.
It brings to mind a column I wrote about nine years ago in response to a question Rep. Cynthia Thielen (R, Kaneohe-Kailua) asked of a DLNR manager.
"How do we get a Marina del Rey in Hawaii?" Thielen inquired perhaps somewhat rhetorically.
Her question was left unanswered at the hearing, but I wrote later that without some near-revolutionary changes, I was sure it would never happen here.
Marina del Rey was constructed in the early 1960s in a cooperative effort between the County of Los Angeles, the state of California and the Army Corps of Engineers.
The harbor entrance, the main channel, the mooring basins, the utilities infrastructure and various surrounding parks were all publicly funded. Then the private sector, with long-term, fast-land leases, built 20 separate boating facilities with 6,000 slips, and ancillary facilities like boat yards, hotels, restaurants, hardware stores and boat dealerships.
This combination of publicly funded development, together with private sector investment and management, has reportedly provided L.A. County with its most successful revenue-generating project, measured in millions of dollars annually.
Moreover, for L.A.'s recreational boaters, having modern, well-maintained, professionally managed marinas has been priceless.
Would even a miniature Marina del Rey-like development ever be approved by our Legislature for the Ala Wai Harbor? It doesn't seem likely.
However, coincidentally, Rep. Thielen's daughter Laura Thielen has recently been appointed interim director of the DLNR, so perhaps her mother's question may resonate in her as well. And she might have another answer.