My grandparents moved to Newport Beach after the mid-‘30s. My grandfather and his father specialized in the construction of pipelines that needed to be installed through rock. We have a picture of my great-grandfather with his crew atop bedrock in Minnesota dated 1903. Two of the workers are holding boxes of dynamite, used to create the trench for the pipelines.
My grandfather’s company was contracted to build Prado Dam near Corona, which included going into the rock on each side for the anchoring of the dam. Newport Harbor had been completed a few years prior, when President Franklin Roosevelt had officially opened it from the White House by telegraph.
With the new commercial and residential harbor my grandfather must have felt he was in Nirvana. His prior life included working in the harsh winters of Duluth, St. Paul and Chicago. As his pipeline business grew, he was able to leave the rented Balboa Island home and build a varnished mahogany (yacht-like) home on two lots on the bayfront in Bay Shores.
My grandparents lived there for 30 years, until their passing. Throughout my life only wealthy folks could live on the bayfront. Naturally, this is especially true at the present time.
Until I was about 10 years old (1960), yachting consisted of wooden boats of all sizes that required an excessive amount of labor for upkeep. Then, about this time, fiberglass boats replaced wooden boats – they could be built at a fraction of the previous labor and material costs, the maintenance costs were probably less than 10 percent of those for wooden yachts. This allowed the middle class to own and operate oceangoing vessels that previously only the wealthy could afford.
While the majority of the land along the bayfront was privately owned, the moorings installed throughout the harbor allowed fisherman, commercial operators and the middle class to berth their oceangoing vessels in an affordable manner.
In the early ’70s, one could purchase a new yacht for $1,000.00 to $1,200.00 a lineal foot. Due to the cost of oil (fiberglass and resin come from oil) and environmental concerns, new yachts cost $10,000 per lineal foot and up. With our local government creating excessive mooring and now docking fees in Newport Harbor, boating here will again only be affordable to the wealthy.
This harbor, the water above the state tidelands, was built for all of the public and for commercial uses. The commercial uses continue to shrink and 97 percent of the public cannot afford to keep their boat in Newport Harbor any more. The last 40 years of harbor fee increases, is a travesty to our harbor and the original intent of turning our mudflats into a harbor for public use.
I commend all the officials for the dredging presently taking place. This dredging is a small fraction of the dredging needed to return the bay bottom I enjoyed as a young person. The clean sandy bottom seen throughout the harbor in the 1950s has been covered by two feet of toxic sludge (muck, as the officials call it), the result of allowing a major portion of Orange County runoff to dump into our precious resource. Where is the “stewardship” our present council talks about to justify excessive fee increases?
I am an optimist, but watching the destruction of the bottom of our bay during my lifetime has made me sick. All this posturing about the proper stewardship of this wonderful harbor is a joke and an insult.
Throughout the harbor – in the majority of the bay where there isn’t dredging being performed – if you fish as we have, and catch a halibut, instead of the fish’s belly being naturally white, it is a dark gray due to the muck that has only come about in the last 50 to 60 years as the county has grown from vacant agricultural land to thousands of streets and homes and businesses.
As young people growing up and swimming in the bay, my peers and I have witnessed this devastating change. When we would swim to the float at the BBC, you could see some eel grass with live sea horses living among the strands. You won’t find that now! When we played “dibble dabble” off the swim float at the NHYC, we hid the popsicle stick under water in clean tan sand. Not now!
I would encourage all bayfront owners, boaters, swimmers, paddle boarders, fisherman, tourists and environmentalists to form a cohesive group to demand our harbor be returned to the previous condition of a clean sandy bottom throughout. I would encourage the government officials to put the future hundreds of millions of dollars they will collect into a lock-box account that cannot be used for ivory-tower city halls, parks and tennis courts beside the bay, and excessive city workers’ pay and benefits.
Let the halibut bellies be white! Let the sea horses thrive in our beautiful harbor!
Next week’s column will return to the optimistic lifestyle of our wonderful harbor.
Steve Barrett is a yacht and marine construction consultant and can be reached at [email protected].