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In Newport Beach, boat owners’ revolt dims parade

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Each Christmas, Newport Harbor is ablaze in lights as homeowners go to extraordinary lengths to complement the city’s annual Christmas Boat Parade—an indelible tradition that renews itself Wednesday night and continues through Sunday.

But this has been a stressful season here along the tranquil waterfront lined with multimillion-dollar homes.

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An increase in city rental fees for residential docks that protrude over public tidelands created a furor when it was approved last week by the City Council.

It also prompted a call to boycott the boat parade and festival of lights by a group calling itself ‘Stop the Dock Tax.’

‘It costs us thousands of dollars to voluntarily decorate our homes and boats to bring holiday smiles to nearly 1 million people,’ organization Chairman Bob McCaffrey wrote to the city. ‘This year, we are turning off our lights and withdrawing our boats in protest of the massive new dock tax we expect the City Council to levy.’

Others recoiled at the proposed boycott of the boat parade, which dates to 1908 when a single gondola led eight canoes illuminated by Japanese lanterns around the harbor. It has now swelled to a decent-sized armada of dozens of boats—some carrying paying customers—that circle past the decorated harbor-front homes.

‘The boycott is ridiculous,’ said Shirley Pepys, whose front yard on Balboa Island has been taken over by a family of penguins dressed for a Hawaiian luau.

‘Taking the fun away for a million people? The majority of people here will still have their lights on,’ she said. ‘Only a handful won’t.’

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