Charter Boats in Newport Harbor Focus of Discussion

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Charter boat operations were the focus of a discussion last week, along with a number of topics relating to how to better manage the industry in Newport Harbor.

Newport Beach City Council heard a presentation from and provided feedback for Harbor Commission Chairman Bill Kenney during the May 8 study session.

The Commission recently created an ad hoc committee aimed at examining the charter fleet in Newport Harbor.

This is an effort to make it better for everybody, Councilman Brad Avery said. The charter fleet is an important part of the city and a key part of providing access to the water, he noted.

“We’re not looking to do anything here except get a better handle to serve the residents of this town and guests and be partners with the charter fleet,” Avery said. “This is something that I feel the city, over decades, has not done a good job of, reaching out to the charter industry and trying to work with the charter industry as partners, and I see this as an attempt to do that.”

Kenney agreed, which is why they want to have the stakeholder meetings and bring the charter boat operators in at the beginning, “so they can be a big part of this.”

“We want to certainly make them a part of this process,” he said. “Put all of these issues on the table and have a healthy and open forum.”

The committee will also gather data, talk to officials from other harbors, and hold public discussions.

Kenney defined their area of study as charter boats, like “party” (wedding or event) vessels, that have a captain and stay in the harbor. They are not studying charters that leave the harbor, like sport fishing, he clarified.

The ad hoc committee will be discussing several topics, including the number of charter boats operating in the harbor, acceptable boat size, greywater discharge, and more.

They will also consider the current Marine Activities Permit.

The MAP is “universal,” so stand up paddle board rental operators are using the same form of permit as the charter fleet. All business enterprises operating on the harbor are technically required to have a MAP, Kenney said.

“One of our objectives is to analyze that permit and tailor it to the different businesses, so that it would be different,” for the various enterprises in the harbor, Kenney noted.

They will consider if there is a better system (lease, franchise agreement, operating license), instead of the permit. They want to “make it more relevant” and work on enforcement of the permit, Kenney said.

Code enforcement in general is a big issue in the harbor.

They will likely recommend stepping up enforcement on the charter fleet and checking them on a more regular basis, Kenney said.

The committee will also consider if there is a better way to structure the tax that the city is already collecting and whether there should be a fee (in addition to or instead of the tax) to help pay for the needed enforcement.

Another big issue, as always, is parking. Questions about if the current requirements are adequate and if charter boats are actually conforming to those requirements will be included in the discussion.

“There are requirements, I’m not sure that we’re adequately enforcing them today,” Kenney said.

They’ll also analyze other harbors and their charter boat operations, he added.

“Try to learn from those who are in the same predicament that we are,” Kenney said.

Council members suggested also studying hours of operation, parking management plans, reviewing past statistics and intensity of use,  and more.

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