Harbor Hammered 1: Mooring Fee Increases Spur Exodus

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Empty moorings, unheard of for generations in Newport Beach, now dot the city-run Balboa Yacht Basin. Photo by Eric Longabardi

The price of keeping a boat at a city-owned dock or mooring in Newport Harbor has been going up since last year and the Independent has learned that many of the city’s longtime boat owners are pulling up anchor and shoving off in response.

The boat slip and mooring fee increases were put into effect in late 2010 by the City Council. They called for a graduated price increase over three years, averaging about 45 percent each.

The first increase went into effect last year. The second round of fee increases is now taking place, with April 1 being the bill date when boat owners will see the latest hike. The third and final phase will occur in 2013.

At the city-run Balboa Yacht Basin, just off Balboa Island and Bayside Drive, the recent second-tier increase has caused a rash of departures. On a visit to the marina this past Saturday, at least 17 boat slips were posted as available and unoccupied. And according to Dave New, who oversees the day-to-day operations of the marina, there are currently 18 open slips, with at least four more set to open up at the end of the month when a few more boats will be leaving the marina for slips elsewhere.

New says that a waiting list of owners and boats which had existed “for 20 years” at the marina is now “gone.” Asked if the new, higher slip fees were the cause of the departures, New says he’s heard plenty of boat owners’ complaints about the new higher prices, especially this month, as the second rental fee increase went into effect.

The Independent spoke with various boat owners who had been renting slips at the Balboa Yacht Basin. One of them, Cari Penhall of Costa Mesa, and her husband, were longtime dock tenants with their 36-foot Cris Craft Roamer dubbed Older Chicks Like It 2. Penhall says her slip rent jumped from $684 per month to $904 a month, causing her to find a new home for her boat. Penhall also says she believes the Newport Beach City Council was “dishonest and underhanded” with boat owners about just how fast prices would be going up.

“They lied to us, and this is the reason why people don’t trust politicians,” she said.

She also believes the boat slip rental fees hikes were misguided as “boat owners bring a lot of related business to the harbor,” with boat fuel purchases and related patronization of local businesses.

The Penhalls recently moved their boat to nearby Huntington Harbour, and according to Cari Penhall are now renting a larger 48-foot slip for their boat for only $744 a month at Peter’s Landing.

Although Penhall says she misses having her boat docked only minutes from her Costa Mesa home, she couldn’t justify paying the higher Newport Beach prices.

Scott Seaton, who runs the Peter’s Landing marina in Huntington says he has had a rash of calls from Newport boaters looking for new slips because of the recent price increases.

“We’ve had at least six new boats or so come to us from Newport,” Seaton says. “We’ll take them all.”

According to Newport Beach City spokeswoman Tara Finnegan, the city’s Balboa Yacht Basin marina has 172 slips and had “28 (slips) vacated since January” of this year, with another “seven moved in since January”.

Most of the now-departed boats are in the 35-to-45-foot range, according to New. Slips for larger boats remain hard to come by, and their tenancy rate has remained steady with past years, despite the slip rental fee increases, New says.

According to figures provided by the city, a boat similar in size to the Penhalls’ would have a new slip rental rate (based on a 35-foot boat in a 35-foot slip) of just over $876. Under the older rate structure the rent would have been just over $666.

The city also raised rates for boats tied up to city owned water moorings throughout the harbor. According to the Harbor Patrol, which administers the leasing of those sites, although a lot of boat owners have registered complaints about the increased prices in recent months, the number of paid tenants has stayed about the same as in past years.

Just how many boat owners will choose to stay in Newport or go elsewhere in the coming year isn’t known, but Penhall believes even more owners are planning to move elsewhere once they see the new higher bill, which comes due on April 1.

The Independent sought comment from all members of the Newport Beach City Council on the boat slip/mooring rate hikes and current situation regarding the departure of boats from the city owned Balboa Yacht Basin, but did not receive any responses by presstime.


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