Jetpack Issue Still Hovering in Newport Harbor

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Photos by Pete Bechtol ©
Photos by Pete Bechtol ©

After another Newport Beach City Council discussion on jetpacks in Newport Harbor, the issue is still hovering.

The City Council voted 3-2 on Tuesday to continue the issue – the second reading of the ordinance – until the June 23 meeting. Mayor Pro Tem Diane Dixon and Councilman Scott Peotter voted no on the item, while Councilman Marshall “Duffy” Duffield recused himself based on a business-related conflict of interest and Councilman Tony Petros was absent.

Dixon said she would vote no on the matter because “there is just too much opportunity for resident inconvenience and irritation,” as well as the difficulty of the maintenance of the permit and enforcement.

“I just think it’s going to be a difficult situation,” Dixon said.

Mayor Ed Selich suggested continuing the item to the next meeting so they could have the fullest council possible to vote on the issue.

On May 26, the Council conducted the first reading of the ordinance, which prohibits the operation of vessels propelled by water above the surface of Newport Harbor, with the exception of a single commercial operator authorized by a city permit.

On Tuesday, public speakers commented about enforcement, noise, tandem riders, multiple jetpacks in the air at the same time, safety, hours of operation, and more.

Jetpack America has said they’d work with residents to find a mutual agreeable solution and to address their concerns, noted resident Don Cole. They also suggested changes to the operation to

Photos by Pete Bechtol ©
Photos by Pete Bechtol ©

comply with the permit regulations.

“Sounds great, but the reality is that Jetpack America continues to violate the conditions of the permit extension,” Cole said.

He mentioned several concerns and noted the operation has been observed well after the allowed closing time, with tandem riders, and several “close calls” with kayakers and other harbor users.

“We’re not just sitting around looking for Jetpack to screw up, they are in our front yard and it is impossible not to notice and be concerned about these issues,” Cole said.

With several of these concerns in mind, Dixon pulled the second reading of the item from the consent calendar.

She asked Harbor Resources Manager Chris Miller to clarify some of the issues mentioned.

Two people on a single jetpack, like an adult and a child, is allowed, Miller confirmed. Staff doesn’t have an issue with tandem operation, he added.

“It’s essentially the same as a single rider,” Miller said. “On the other hand, they have increased their jetpack users to two separate users.”

Miller said he explained to Jetpack America President Dean O’Malley that the intent of the interim extended permit was to keep the business model the same and not increase the capacity or use in any way. O’Malley understood and confirmed that they would only have one jetpack operating at all times, Miller added.

Staff will clarify the permit language to make it “crystal clear,” Miller added.

Miller also noted that Jetpack America agreed to maintain operating hours ending at 5 p.m. in summer and 4 p.m. in winter.

Also, the operator has made an effort to stay approximately 300 feet away from docks, Miller continued. He also reminded O’Malley that the permit clearly states that they must move around and not concentrate in one area and that they need to be extra careful while operating in the harbor, referring to the close call with a kayaker recently.

“It’s not only a matter about people getting out of his way, it’s also (them) being mindful of other boaters in the harbor,” Miller said.

Enforcement will be a combination of resident feedback and authorities staying vigilant, he noted.

“If you live on the water then certainly we would appreciate your feedback,” Miller said.

The Harbor Master noted at a recent Harbor Commission meeting that he would inform his staff of the rules and regulations, Miller noted. They can keep an eye on things, make observations, enforce if necessary, and also keep the city informed of activities, Miller said.

Newport Beach resident and Jetpack America partner Ryan Eastman said the company is making good progress in learning and complying with the new rules.

“We have been trying very hard over the last few weeks to adopt the new processes and going to the new location,” he said. “We’re not taking this lightly.”

They are more than happy to work within the parameters set by the city, he added. They want time to develop a system that works for all parties involved, he noted.

The permit language wasn’t clear on the mentioned issues, but they are happy to comply now that they understand more clearly, he said.

“We’re here to obey what your permit allows us to do,” Eastman said. “We’re not trying to skirt the rules. We’re not trying to break the rules. We’re trying to be the best people we can be in the harbor while still providing our customers with a great experience.”

Another representative of Jetpack America also spoke and emphasized that the companying is trying to comply with the new rules.

But not all residents agree.

It is the nature of the activity to go fast, fly high, spin, dive in the water, noted Judy Cole. The rules were pretty clear, they’ve had a few weeks to comply and they haven’t been able to stay on top of it, she said.

“It is just not realistic that they are going to be able to stay within any of the guidelines and restrictions,” she said.

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