Council Considers Consolidating Tidelands and Harbor Groups

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The Tidelands Management Committee and the Harbor Commission may soon become one following a discussion this week.

The Newport Beach City Council considered consolidating the two groups during their meeting on Tuesday.

“It’s what I believe in my heart,” is right, said Councilman Marshall “Duffy” Duffield, who served on the Harbor Commission for a decade, proposed the idea.

“We should sunset the Tidelands Committee, turn our support over to the Harbor Commission and let them get to work doing what they do best,” Duffield said, who served on the Harbor Commission for a decade. “I guarantee doing this would keep Newport Harbor as the finest small boat harbor in the world.”

The motion to move all the Tidelands Management Committee duties to the Harbor Commission was eventually shot down. Council then voted on an amended motion to authorize the mayor to appoint two council members to work with staff to review the responsibilities of both groups and come back to council with appropriate recommendations was approved 6-1. Councilman Scott Peotter dissented.

The TMC was originally formed in 2013 to discover future capital improvement projects to the harbor, Duffield explained. At that time, council members and staff believed members of the Harbor Commission would be unable to work on those type of projects due to a possible conflict of interest, he added.

Council at the time thought it would “provide a deeper and more thorough look at capital needs as well as ways to design, permit, fund, and construct the improvements,” according to the staff report.

It was intended to sunset once it accomplished identifying the CIPs and the necessary funding, Duffield said.

Duffield attended several TC meetings and watched as items up for discussion were the same ones that the Harbor Commission worked on, he noted.

Public participation in Harbor Commission meetings has dwindled and Tideland meetings can bring in large crowds. Tideland meetings are better publicized, while little is done to promote HC meetings, Duffield said.

There was even a public study session to discontinue the Harbor Commission due to the “overwhelming attendance” at the TMC meetings.

“It seems crazy to me that a committee could outdo a commission,” Duffield said.

The Harbor Commission was of course saved, Duffield said, but herein lies the problem.

“To be effective, the Harbor Commission must be knowledgeable about all issues past and current that relate to the bay and shoreline properties,” Duffield said. “Our citizens need to know where to input questions and get answers regarding harbor issues.”

Duffield suggested the HC take on the beaches and piers that Tidelands currently manages as well as Semeniuk Slough and the Upper Bay. Also, the Commission should report quarterly to the council, not annually, he added. By doing this, the Harbor Commission can become more productive, he reasoned.

The Commission could provide a lot of helpful information, opinions and insight to a variety of issues, Duffield noted.

Curry said he would be in support of a narrowly drafted reallocation of responsibilities so that the Harbor Commission is more fully responsible for those activities in the harbor

But there are some significant issues that went far afield from simply restructuring their roles and responsibilities, Curry said. There are also other jurisdictions to consider, like Public Safety and Parks, Beaches and Recreation, he added.

“The breadth of the discussion is much more far reaching than I would be prepared to approve,” Curry said.

Mayor Ed Selich agreed. He was not in favor or rolling all the TMC duties into the Harbor Commission, although he did support looking into re-evaluating their duties and responsibilities.

“I certainly wouldn’t be supportive of eliminating it at this time. If some day in the future there’s a better model, perhaps. But right now I think that we ought to keep the Tidelands Committee,” Selich said. “I have no problem going back and refining the specified duties of the Harbor Commission, but that’s about as far as I’m prepared to go right now.”

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