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Newport could turn to visiting mariners and charters for more harbor revenue

Newport Beach’s new Harbor Operations division is looking at generating more revenue by expanding guest moorings and charging charter operators inspection fees.

City Manager Dave Kiff floated the fees for the City Council Tuesday while giving an update on harbor operations four months after the city took over mooring operations and on-the-water code enforcement from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Harbor Patrol.

The potential revenue sources could infuse an estimated $150,000 into the division’s budget and would include:

  • Increasing guest mooring prices and opportunities by temporarily renting out moorings — the patches of water where boat owners store their vessels — that will be vacant while their permanent tenants take their boats on an extended trip, plus reevaluating fees charged to visiting mariners in the existing guest spaces. An appraisal of visitor fees, including guest mooring and super-yacht anchorage rates, is underway. This could yield $75,000 for harbor operations, Kiff said.
  • Stricter inspections of charter boats with a new fee to cover the costs of boarding vessels to check headcounts, plumbing sufficiency and noise levels. Kiff said the city has a “head tax” for charter or party boats but hasn’t done the best job in ensuring the passengers are actually counted, and that the count aligns with what’s allowed and what the operators report. This could also add $75,000 to the harbor budget.

Kiff did not offer fee specifics, and the council took no action on the potential fees or other moves to fill out the division’s duties, which he also revealed Tuesday.

In addition to sketching out new fee programs, harbor staff has started focusing on derelict and unkempt vessels, live-aboards, vessel winterization, updating the harbor code rule book, bringing management of the Balboa Yacht Basin and Marina Park marinas in-house and buying another work boat.

A 23-foot boat, outfitted with a pump and davit, would be used to bail out vessels taking on water, contain minor fires and oil spills, and help with trash removal at a cost of about $150,000.

Administratively, the city also suggests putting harbor operations, a multi-disciplinary division, under the umbrella of the city manager’s office and making staffing adjustments that eliminate an unfilled “harbor resources manager” position, makes the harbormaster and a department assistant permanent and full-time, and converts a contracted dockmaster to a full-time city employee. It also suggests calling on city lifeguards for after-hours assistance.

Since taking over harbor operations from the county in July, city staff and contractors, as an arm of the public works department, now manage long-term and temporary mooring rentals, permit transfers, verification of boat owners’ maintenance and insurance obligations and emergency towing.

Civilians also enforce the city’s harbor code, which includes live-aboard regulations, time limits at piers, noise and wake complaints, and sea lion deterrence.

The staff includes a harbormaster and 13 part-time harbor services workers with a fleet of three small boats — a city-owned Boston Whaler powerboat and two twin-hulled rowing-coach vessels leased from the Newport Aquatic Center.

The city has transferred and digitized mooring permit records from the county, added guest moorings near the new offices at Marina Park and experimented with coyote decoys to deter sea lions from lounging on yachts and docks.

The sheriff’s department had been the city’s partner for mooring administration and code enforcement since 1975.

City officials say the move was to give harbor support a customer service focus.

Mayor Pro-Tem Marshall “Duffy” Duffield, a strong harbor advocate, said he approves of the city’s efforts.

“We basically put on a party every weekend, and hundreds and hundreds of people come,” he said. “We want to encourage and support and educate them so they have a good time.”

Harbor Commission Chairman Bill Kenney said recent commission discussions covering piers, live-aboards, derelict boats and coordination with charter operators have generally come down to enforcing existing regulations rather than creating new ones.

“Our new harbormaster has done a masterful job of building a department and making changes on the water. Our harbor has never looked better,” he said. “But in order to continue the progress it is my opinion that more resources need to be directed to enforcement of our codes and ordinances.”

hillary.davis@latimes.com

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