City Council Delays Dock Fee Decision

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After more than two hours of discussion, the Newport Beach City Council decided to adjourn a special meeting Wednesday and postpone voting about increasing fees for residential docks.

Newport Beach council members agreed it would be best to reconsider the proposal in light of the input and issues that were raised by residents at the meeting.

The packed room was largely in opposition of the proposal, with many holding “Stop the Dock Tax” signs. A group of dock owners have also threatened to boycott the upcoming 104th Annual Christmas Boat Parade by turning out their lights and pulling their boats out of the parade.

The resolution would increase the permit fees for residential docks using public tidelands from a flat $100 per year to 52.5 cents per square foot, per year. The “rental” fees are reflective of fair market value, said City Manager Dave Kiff.

Kiff later clarified that this isn’t a proposed lease agreement, it is an annual pier permit.

The examples given in the slideshow range between $475 and $3,586 per year, with most averaging between $700 and $1,000. The fees would increase over a five-year phase plan.

Speakers opposed to the fee increase proposal used a variety of phrases to convey their viewpoint, including “money grab,” “ludicrous,” “shameful,” “travesty,” and one referred to it as a loophole to prop 13.

The most common concerns from the public were regarding being allowed to rent the dock out, the 10-foot suggestion for the area subject to rent, and a cap on the consumer price index.

Several speakers also mentioned that residents on a fixed-income may not be able to afford the increase and would be forced to tear down the dock or move.

There were comments for both sides regarding landowners being able to rent out the residential pier space. Staff recommended that the city revise the municipal code to allow it, since it is currently illegal, but to charge the small commercial marina rental rate for that portion rented.

After several comments from the public on this issue, Henn explained that if a landowner rents out their dock they are acting as a commercial owner, so it’s only fair to charge them the commercial rate for a small marina, he said. Members of the audience were audibly upset and disagreed with Henn’s explanation, asking council members to reconsider.

Another hot topic was the area subject to being charged. According to the revised recommendations from city staff, it includes the float, gangway, internal slip (if any) and up to 10 feet around float, except “backside” and other non-useable portions.

The entire float is using the tidelands, Henn explained.

“There’s a question on whether or not it makes sense to actually assess this tax, or dock [permit], or fee, or whatever you want to call it, based on the size of the dock rather than the actual boats that are there,” said Danny Sullivan, who owns an 80-foot dock and an 18-foot duffy. “I’m not going to be using most of that dock and now I’m contemplating whether or not I actually have to spend the expense of taking it apart.”

It would be fair to charge for the actual water space that owners are using rather than what the city thinks they’ll be using, he said. The market does not charge people for space they’re not using, he argued.

Many residents also urged the council to take more time to consider all angles of the proposal before making any decisions.

“The rush to judgment on this is killing me,” said resident Devon Kelly. “I think we need to slow the train down. I know you’ve done a lot of work, but I think we need to, beyond December 11, slow this down and really look hard at what we’re facing. Nine hundred people are affected.”

Kristine Thagard, who spoke on behalf of the Newport Beach Private Dock Owners Association, the group behind the “Stop the Dock Tax” campaign, said the proposal has many issues that still need to be worked out.

“Part of the problem is the process that we follow,” she said, referring to how quickly after the workshop that the proposal went to city council to be voted on.

“If we work together, if we talk, if we go through the process, I think we can come up with something that works for everyone,” she said. “When we rush to judgment, bad decisions get made, bad results occur.”

A few residents said they understand that permit fees need to be increased, but were wary of this proposal for a variety of reasons.

“We are trying to do this piece by piece, in a way that’s fair and respectful to all,” Henn said, adding that they will have a “look-back” as an honest effort to make sure it was done correctly and the decisions were made in the fairest way possible.

Several speakers also mentioned boycotting the Christmas Boat Parade.

“It’s our protest,” Thagard said about the lights out threat. “It’s all we can do to try to get this thing to slow down.”

Tom Johnson spoke as part of the Commodores Club of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce, the volunteer group that puts on the Christmas Boat Parade. He reminded residents that the boycotting of the parade won’t hurt the city or any council members, but rather restaurants and local businesses that depend on the crowds that the parade brings.

The city also revised the proposal to require landowners to have insurance, but with no identified amount. The revisions also included allowing owners to transfer permits if they sell the property and increasing the time for a notice of termination of a permit for unpaid rent from seven to 30 days.

City council members will re-evaluate the proposal and have scheduled the vote for December 11 at 4 p.m. in council chambers at the new civic center.

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