After a reversal by several members, the Newport Beach City Council moved this week toward banning water-propelled jetpacks in the harbor instead of regulating them.
The council voted 3 to 2 against approving an ordinance that would have limited the number of jetpack operators. The council instead directed staff to draft an ordinance that would ban water-propelled vessels such as jetpacks from the harbor. That proposal will be voted on at a future meeting.
During a February study session, the council indicated that it did not want to eliminate jetpacks but instead favored allowing one jetpack business to operate, with regulations.
But several council members then had a change of heart.
"I've done a lot of investigation ... since our last study session, and I've become more convinced it is not compatible with the other uses in the harbor," Councilman Scott Peotter said of a jetpack business.
The issue has been debated for nearly a year between Jetpack America — a business operating in the area — and nearby homeowners who say the activity is a nuisance in the otherwise quiet recreational harbor. Water jetpacks are backpack-style devices that use seawater to propel riders into the air while they are tethered to an instructor's watercraft via a long hose.
Jetpack America has operated in various areas of the harbor for years, but last June, the City Council agreed to a six-month moratorium on permits for businesses operating water-propelled vessels such as jetpacks. Council members directed the Harbor Commission to study the activity, including residents' concerns about safety and noise.
Because Jetpack America had its permits before the moratorium, it was allowed to continue operating.
After months of studies and public hearings, the Harbor Commission voted in December to recommend that the council ban the activity in the harbor and allow water-propulsion businesses to operate only on the open ocean.
Mayor Pro Tem Diane Dixon indicated during the February study session that she favored regulating the activity instead of banning it. But, she said, she was swayed by many residents in her district who live near the harbor and oppose jetpacking.
"I had an opportunity to witness this personally," Dixon said of Jetpack America's operation. "I was out on the water this past weekend and I saw with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears and thought, 'Oh my goodness, I would not want to be living right there, wherever it ends up.'"
The council's vote took Jetpack America President Dean O'Malley by surprise.
He said his business will have to move out of Newport Beach because it is not "economically viable" to operate on the open ocean, as the council suggested. Jetpack America's permit to operate in Newport Beach expires May 21.
"I'm disappointed, obviously," he said. "It's unfortunate that Orange County is going to lose a fun activity."