After weeks of meetings, numerous hours of heated discussions, and facing threats of boycotting the Christmas Boat Parade, Newport Beach City Council voted 5-1 Tuesday in approval of increased residential dock fees.
The final vote, with Councilwoman Leslie Daigle dissenting and Councilman Ed Selich abstaining, came after more than two hours of discussion with the public during a special meeting Tuesday night in the old council chambers.
The packed room was largely in opposition of the increase, with a few holding “Stop the Dock Tax” signs. Several dock owners again threatened to boycott the upcoming 104th Annual Christmas Boat Parade by turning out their lights and pulling their boats out of the parade, while others said they would still light up their homes and boats.
The vote raised permit fees for residential docks using public tidelands from a flat $100 annually to 52.5 cents per square foot of usable dock space, per year. The fees will increase over a five-year phase plan.
The examples given in the city staff slideshow ranged between $281 and $1,089 per year.
The “rental” fees are reflective of fair market value, said City Manager Dave Kiff.
Kiff clarified in a past meeting that this isn’t a proposed lease agreement, it is an annual pier permit.
The increase does not apply to areas that are not city-administered tidelands, those include Promontory Bay, Linda Isle, Harbor Island, Dover Shores, and parts of Bayside Drive, Kiff explained.
Staff made a few changes to the resolution since the previous meeting, including not charging for the backside of the float in all cases, requiring insurance with no set dollar amount and no hold harmless or indemnification of the city, and allowing owners to rent out their piers at the small marina rate of $1.26 per square foot.
After hearing public comment at Tuesday‘s special meeting, the city council decided to adjust a few more details, including not subjecting rates to the Consumer Price Index during the phase-in period, then capping them at the CPI or two percent increases, whichever is less, starting in 2018, with no appraisal in 2018.
At the start of the discussion, Councilwoman Leslie Daigle asked City Attorney Aaron Harp questions surrounding possible violations of the Brown Act.
A committee was formed two years ago and consisted of council members Mike Henn, Steve Rosansky and Ed Selich. They looked at commercial use of the moorings only, not the residential piers, Harp said.
That committee sunsetted in March of 2011, Harp explained, and a working group was later formed of individual council members, but not as a formal committee designated by the city council.
There may have been typos in the Nov. 28 resolution confusing the concepts, Harp said.
A few speakers brought up the issue.
They met numerous times in private without public notice as part of an ad hoc committee, according to Steve Baric, who spoke at the meeting representing the Newport Beach Dock Owners Association.
The committee became a “stand-in” committee for city council, Baric argued, and, as such, it became subject to the protections by the Brown Act, he added.
After public comments, Harp again addressed the issue.
The working group was formed organically and does not meet any of the requirements for what constitutes a Brown Act committee, Harp said.
The boycott of the Christmas Boat Parade was also discussed at the meeting.
Kristine Thagard, who spoke on behalf of the Newport Beach Private Dock Owners Association, the group behind the “Stop the Dock Tax” campaign, said boycotting the parade is a peaceful protest being done out of frustration.
A supporter of the campaign, Pete Pallette, said if the council decided to postpone the decision they would cancel the boycott, if not then it’s “game on.”
Gary Sherwin, president of Visit Newport Beach, said it was unfair to penalize businesses and the community by boycotting the boat parade, which has nothing to do with the council’s dock fee resolution. About one third of the audience raised their hands in agreement.
“Let’s not confuse what separates us from what brings us together,” he said. “And the Christmas Boat Parade is one of those signature events that truly does bring us together.”
Peninsula resident John Hedlund said his house has been lit up since Dec. 1 and had no plans to go dark.
“I take pride in our city’s efforts to stage a nationally acclaimed event,” he said. “To do otherwise is behaving like a spoiled child who takes his ball home when he can’t have his way. It detracts from the logical arguments made concerning the dock tax, it doesn’t accomplish anything.”
Hedlund went on to say he understood the search for additional revenue, but felt that the residential pier fees are “ill advised.”
The majority of speakers agreed, and after public comment ended city council members answered questions, discussed the details and defended the resolution and the increased fees.
Councilwoman Nancy Gardner said she doesn’t mind disagreeing and then discussing points in the resolution, but has felt backed into a corner because of threats.
She felt she was put in an “extremely difficult position,” she said.
Councilman Keith Curry said the increases percentage-wise might be high, but they total out to a relatively small dollar amounts, given the value provided.
Calling an average of $100 or $200 more a year unfair is just “absurd,” Rosansky said, especially after only paying a $100 flat annual fee for the last 23 years, which was the last time the marina and residential fees were adjusted.
Referring to it as an “exorbitant increase” is just not logical, Rush Hill agreed.
There is still a lot of “misinformation” out there, Hill said.
“We’re here, in a large part, because the previous council didn’t want to take the kind of shit you’re giving out,” said Hill, in response to an audience member yelling out his disagreement to Hill’s statement. “I think we’re paying the price, all of us paying the price, because previous councils wouldn’t bite the bullet to do this.”
Hill later apologized for his language, “but not my attitude.”
A few council members said they have received several letters in support of the tax, but declined to reveal the names of those individuals.