Fee Increase Looms Over Harbor Moorings

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A very volatile and deep-rooted topic is floating around among boaters in Newport Harbor and especially among those who keep their boats on mooring cans in the harbor.  The issue is so significant that I have heard of some who have put off buying boats, even in this economy, which are kept on one of the moorings.

Now, you are really wondering what I am referring to.

Well, this topic affects waterfront property owners with docks, businesses that utilize docks, marinas, and every mooring holder in the harbor.  The City of Newport Beach is looking to raise the tideland fees, more commonly known as the harbor fees, under its tidelands grant from the state.

The City has a grant from the state to administer and maintain the tidelands that make up the harbor, and can charge a fee to recover those costs.  However, there is a caveat that all tideland generated revenues must be placed in a tidelands fund and not in the city’s general fund.

The stumbling block is, how does the city calculate the value of the harbor, the economic benefit of the harbor, the total revenue generated by all tideland associated activities, and the actual or direct costs to administer and maintain the tidelands?

Mark Sites, in a letter posted on the Newport Mooring Association’s website, sums it up: “There’s been a lot of talk lately about the need to raise harbor fees.  In fact, the City Council has formed an ad hoc subcommittee to look into the matter.  And whether they know it or not, council members (Michael) Henn, (Ed) Selich, and (Steve) Rosansky will be wading into the murky waters of a debate that has gone on since the ’60s.  At issue: How does the City fairly value and charge for the tidelands it manages in order to cover the costs?”

The letter, entitled “A Different Take on Assessing Harbor Fees – Some Thinking Out of the Box,”  is posted on the NMA website (newportmooringassociation.org) along with a PowerPoint by NMA Secretary Bill Moses.

While most people and harbor users do acknowledge that the fees should be increased to cover any associated costs, the issue is the methodology of how any increase is determined and how the related revenue is recorded in the city’s fund groups.

The council committee’s directive is to invite the stakeholders and others to the table to help determine the cost of services or fair market value for all fees or charges relating to the tidelands.  As you can imagine, this is a huge undertaking, but one that is long overdue and should extend further to include, as I constantly mention, the huge economic value and revenue generated by the harbor and boaters that directly or indirectly benefit the city, property owners, and businesses.  Just look at the prices of the homes for sale around the harbor, and you can easily see how property owners directly benefit from the harbor and access to boating.

Many people do not know that the Beacon Bay Bill, commonly known as the tidelands trust, outlines how the city administers and maintains the tidelands on behalf of the people of California.  The bill actually extends out of the waters to the public bathing beaches, and public aquatic playgrounds in Newport.

A tidelands appraisal was conducted by George Jones, and a separate harbor fees study was prepared for the city, however, both were rejected.  Now, rumors across the water are mentioning that the mooring fees might be tripled without a formal fee study or appraisal of the tidelands.

This is a very serious topic that will affect the harbor and the use of the harbor for years to come.  This is one of those topics that need to be studied professionally, and the City Council should not make any decisions hastily for the purpose of just inflating fees to increase revenues.

The detailed breakdown of the city’s actual expenses for the tidelands is the starting point in this discussion, then a look at all tideland revenue sources whether actual or potential, and where the existing revenue funds are being booked in the revenue accounts.  Without the numbers, any discussion on the topic would be just a conjecture, and the law of unintended consequences is in play.  As the city looks to increase revenues, the additional costs to go boating will prevent some boaters from using the harbor, thus reducing boating’s economic benefit to the marine services, fuel docks, restaurants – you can see where I am going with this.

Tip of the week: The Marine Committee of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce will be hosting a meeting this month, and this is one of the topics on the agenda and you can find out more information at newportbeach.com.

And don’t forget: Tune in to the No. 1 boating radio talk show in the nation, Capt. Mike Whitehead’s Boathouse Radio Show, broadcasting coast-to-coast on the CRN Digital Talk Radio syndicated network every Saturday at noon, Pacific Time.  Join Chandler Bell and me as we talk about “all things boating.”  You can find the station listings, cable TV channels, live streaming on the Internet, and now available are apps to listen to the show for your iPhone, Blackberry, iTouch, Android, Palm, and Windows Mobile at www.BoathouseTV.com or www.BoathouseRadio.com.

Until next week, Safe Voyages!

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