Water-propelled jetpacks may soon take their final flights over Newport Harbor following a Newport Beach City Council decision this week.
A motion to approve an ordinance that would have allowed limited and regulated the jetpacks failed 3-2 during the Tuesday meeting.
Mayor Pro Tem Diane Dixon and councilmen Scott Peotter and Tony Petros voted against the ordinance, while Mayor Ed Selich and Councilman Kevin Muldoon supported it. Councilman Marshall “Duffy” Duffield recused himself because he owns a boat rental business. Councilman Keith Curry was absent.
Dixon, whose district covers the Balboa Peninsula, said she has heard from a “great number” of residents which prompted her to oppose the measure.
“I want to support the very strong wishes of the residents in District 1 who would be negatively impacted by this,” Dixon said.
Muldoon moved to approve the ordinance on the condition that after the RFP process, staff bring the first satisfactory contact back to council for a full review and final approval.
After the motion failed, Dixon suggested staff return with a proposal for full prohibition within the harbor.
Tuesday’s action was a change in direction for a few of the council members.
In February, Council moved forward with regulating water-propelled jetpacks in the harbor. During a study session they directed staff to research and come back with a recommended ordinance limiting and regulating commercially operated water propelled vessels and possibly prohibiting private operators.
Several council members were on board with the idea, as long as it could be done safely without too much impact on the residents and with strict regulation.
Peotter said he did a bit of investigation on harbor users since the February study session and has become convinced that “it’s not a compatible use with the other uses in the harbor.”
For Dixon, it was partly the overwhelming response she received from residents who were against it.
She was also greatly influenced by the unanimous vote against the recommendation by the Harbor Commission.
The commission unanimously voted in October to recommend to the council prohibiting both commercial and private operation of vessels propelled by water above the surface of Newport Harbor.
“I respect the Harbor Commission’s due diligence,” said Dixon, noting that she was out in Newport Harbor last weekend and witnessed the activity for herself.
“I saw it with my own eyes and I heard it with my own ears and I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, I would not want to be living right there,’” Dixon said. “I think it will have significant negative impacts on our residents,”
A few of those residents spoke up during the meeting, including West Bay Avenue resident George Farrah
“We’ve been having problems for the last several years,” he said. “We have not been able to get any relief… It’s been extremely stressful for most of the residents in the area.”
It’s an invasive noise, he added.
“We’re not in a position to relax in our own homes,” Farrah said.
On the other side of the issue was President of Jetpack America Dean O’Malley
“We understand we are a non-traditional user of the harbor,” O’Malley said. “But we do feel that we can fit in. That’s been our goal since day one.”
They have made an effort to be respectful of the neighbors, O’Malley said, including moving around to multiple locations. O’Malley has previously stated that they’ve also taken other measures to mitigate the noise.
It’s not silent, but they have tried to keep it at a reasonable level for daytime operations, O’Malley said Tuesday.
“There are those who are not too keen on our operation. We understand that, we respect that,” O’Malley said. “But we do have a lot of fans.”
A lot of residents and visitors love the activity, he said, noting that it’s rated as the number one outdoor activity in Newport Beach on tripadvisor, an online travel community.
Both Dixon and Peotter suggested using locations outside the harbor, specifically in front of CdM beach.
It would be viable on a nice, calm day, O’Malley responded. But on many days the wind, waves and current make it very difficult and less safe, he continued. It’s especially risky for first-time users.
The jetty would make that area in front of CdM relatively calm unless there are south swells, Peotter countered.
The current operator’s permit expires May 21.