Changes to Harbor Speed Limit Rules, Department Staffing

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The sun rises over the moorings in Newport Harbor.
— Photo by Sara Hall ©

Newport Harbor got some attention this week, as Newport Beach City Council unanimously approved some changes to staffing and speed limits.

Council voted 4-0 on Tuesday in favor of two position re-classifications in the newly created Harbor Department and, in another agenda item, some harbor speed limit exceptions for human or wind powered vessels (and their support vessels) during special events.

Mayor Marshall “Duffy” Duffield recused himself on both votes because of his harbor-related business. Councilmen Kevin Muldoon and Scott Peotter were absent.

The change regarding speed limits in the harbor is an amendment to a rule in the city’s municipal code, which will allow human powered craft or wind powered vessels to travel at speeds above five nautical miles per hour over city tidelands under certain conditions, like races or practices, via a city issued permit from the harbormaster. The permit will detail specific days, and can last between one day and six months. The amendment also pertains to support vessels.

“However, no vessels may operate in an uncontrolled, un-seamanlike manner or at a speed that endangers the safety of persons or property,” staff emphasize in the report.

The overall rule, as always, is that they must be safe and controlled, confirmed Councilman Brad Avery, a former Harbor Commissioner.

“The intention of this is for racing vessels to (do something) they’ve been doing for years… exceed the speed limit when they’re doing races in the harbor when the winds are fairly strong,” Avery said. It also applies to practicing rowing teams, he added.

They typically only exceed the speed limit by a “small amount,” Avery explained.

But by doing that, they aren’t in compliance with the harbor code, he said. This amendment will “take care of that problem,” Avery said.

“This allows that to occur so they will no longer be in violation of the posted speed limit,” Avery said.

It’s something they need to do, in terms of giving special consideration for these unique events that help make Newport Harbor special, Avery concluded.

“I think this is well thought out,” Avery said. “This has been a long road and it’s good to see it here tonight.”

Newport Beach Harbor Commission voted unanimously on April 11 to support the amendment.

This proposal has been a long time in the works, Commissioner John Drayton said in April. It’s been floating around the harbor for about a decade, he added.

“I’m delighted that this is moving forward… It’s in motion,” Drayton said at the time.

At the May 8 Council meeting, the City Council authorized staff to move forward with proposed amendment.

It also had to go through State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways.

After reaching out to the state officials there was a “positive discussion,” Harbor Resources Manager Chris Miller said in April. He got the impression that if it’s a well thought out plan, they will support it.

Miller sent a letter to the state division on June 28 to gather their comments, but has yet to receive any input.

Sailors racing in Newport Harbor.
— Photo by Jim Collins

“We are confident the details and permit conditions herein adequately protect the city while still providing a safe environment for the target audience and the general users of Newport Harbor,” Miller wrote in the letter.

As she understands it, Assistant City Manager Carol Jacobs said the state has 30 days to submit a written response, and if not, the city is automatically allowed to implement the changes.

The County of Orange and the Orange County Sheriff’ s Department were also consulted during this process, and agreed with this concept. However, the speed limit over county tidelands will not change.

In another harbor-related item earlier in the evening, Council approved some re-classifications for positions in the newly created Harbor Department.

The Harbor Resources Manager position would be reclassified to Administrative Manager position, Jacobs explained.

Since the Harbor Resources Manager is a higher paid position than the Administrative Manager, the incumbent’s salary would remain where it is now and would be “Y-rated.”

Y-rating refers to holding the salary rate that the employee received in the previous position, so that person no longer has the ability to get raises, until the lower salary rate (in this case, the Administrative Manager position), through negotiations, becomes eligible again.

The second position changed on Tuesday is the Harbor Resources Technician, reclassified as a Permit Technician, which requires a broader range of skill sets.

The incumbent placed in this position would get normal salary increases as their skill set increases to that level, Jacobs explained. It would be included in next year’s budget.

During public comment, several speakers pointed out other areas of Title 17, the Harbor Code, mostly about the city’s live aboard rules. Residents said they give a “short leash” to those staying overnight on their vessels in the harbor and changes are needed in that area of the code.

Councilwoman Diane Dixon clarified that the Council’s action on Tuesday was related only to staffing and not any new regulations or changes, but that may be part of the Commission’s upcoming review of Title 17.

Most of the changes on Tuesday are “non-substantive,” apart from a few modifications for language clarity, City Attorney Aaron Harp explained.

“Title 17 is all going to go back to the Harbor Commission,” Harp confirmed. “They’re going to weigh in on a host of different changes to the entire Title 17.”

Council recently asked the Harbor Commission to comprehensively review the entire Title 17, confirmed Mayor Pro Tem Will O’Neill.

The “rather extensive” look at the Harbor Code will consider possible revisions, he said.

O’Neill encouraged residents with any concerns or ideas for change, including modifications to the live aboard rules, to voice their opinions the Harbor Commission as they review the code.

It will be part of a public forum where the public will have an opportunity to comment.

Avery agreed that the Harbor Commission’s review of Title 17 will be the best opportunity for residents to comment on changes or raise any concerns.

“I have full confidence that once the Harbor Commission hears from you, hears from all their constituents, (they will) take the time that’s needed to really figure this out,” Avery said. “We just need to make sure that it’s done properly. I know the Harbor Commission will be fully engaged on this.”

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