For some in Newport Beach, the booming party-boat business has been nothing to celebrate.
In less than five years, the number of licensed charter operators in Newport Harbor has quadrupled. And with this growth have come problems ranging from a severe shortage of dockside parking to the blare of live bands and party-goers cruising past million-dollar bay-front homes.
State officials also say there are too few sewage disposal facilities in the harbor to accommodate charter boats. And Newport Beach officials acknowledge that an unknown number of maverick boat owners are ferrying paying customers around the harbor without city permission.
"It's tough to control what's going on in the harbor when you don't know how many charters there are on a given weekend. . . . That's the big unknown," said Glen Everroad, a licensing supervisor who oversees charter activities for the city.
Until last year, Everroad said, the city's efforts at regulating the charter business had been minimal. Keeping tabs on operators offering sunset cruises and offshore weddings had been easy. But the growing numbers of charter businesses crept up on city officials, and it wasn't until last year that they realized that a cottage industry had become big business.
With an estimated 10,000 boats in the harbor, there were plenty of skippers to satisfy the clamor for a chartered spin around the harbor.
Bayside residents and businessmen say they, too, have paid a price. They complained of noise and parking problems from the charters, and the City Council responded by adopting an ordinance in October, 1986, that most officials, residents and charter operators agree has generally improved the situation.
Under the ordinance, there can be no live music on a charter boat after 10 p.m., and any on-board music cannot project 150 feet beyond the boat.
In addition, all charters must be approved by the city, and, before a permit is issued, boat operators must show proof that they have secured adequate off-street parking. Residents and business owners, particularly those living near public landings, say charter boat customers often tie up street parking for hours.
As a result, some charter operators lease parking spaces from private businesses. During the busy summer months and the annual Christmas boat parade, they even shuttle customers from outlying lots at the Fashion Island shopping center.
Harry Meily, who lives on Balboa Peninsula two doors from the 15th Street landing where charters periodically dock, said parking in his neighborhood has improved since last year. On a weekend night, many of the metered spaces near the landing are filled by charter passengers, he said. But parking near his house in the 1600 block of West Balboa Boulevard is not as congested these days.
"I haven't had anybody block my driveway in a long while," said Meily, a 20-year Newport Beach resident whose house fronts on the bay.
One of the harbor's main channels is less than 75 yards from Meily's patio. On some nights, particularly in the summer when the air is warm and the breeze is still, the sound of party-goers on a passing charter pours through his open windows. But Meily considers the charter boats an attraction rather than an annoyance.
"Sure they make a lot of noise," Meily said, "but they're actually kind of pretty, especially at sunset when we're sitting down to dinner."
Lee Crumbley, who lives on the bay at the tip of the Balboa Peninsula, said charter boats are an inconvenience that comes with living in such a popular spot.
"You make a lot of compromises to live in this city," Crumbley said as he washed his car under a warm fall sun. It was deserted in the 2200 block of Channel Road, the kind of peace and quiet that Crumbley said makes the hassles of summer crowds, congested parking and charter boat noise tolerable.
"I don't have a lot of sympathy for those who complain about the charter boats," Crumbley said. "This is Newport Beach, not the wilds of Wyoming. It's going to be noisy now and then. One call to the Harbor Patrol usually takes care of it."
But one Balboa Island resident said the charter boats cruise so close to her two-story bay home that she "can see the olive in people's drinks" from her master bedroom.
"It's like the 405 Freeway out there some nights," said the woman, who asked not to be identified. "It's out of control . . . the noise, the music and the rumble of the engines. It really spoils it for us."
Muddying the waters are boat owners who are trying to make a quick dollar to help pay for maintenance or mooring costs by occasionally chartering their craft. Some do it without a city permit, said Dave Harshbarger, director of the Newport Beach Marine Office.
Enforcement of charter boat regulations, particularly noise violations, is left up to the Orange County Sheriff's Department harbor office.
Capt. Harry Gage, who oversees the 15-member harbor office, said 90% of the charter complaints are noise-related. Gage said his two-man patrol boats respond to most complaints but acknowledged that the size of the harbor, the growing number of charters on the bay and the scope of the agency's job make it difficult on a busy night to answer every call.
A less visible, but potentially more hazardous problem is sewage disposal. Joanne Schneider, chief of planning for the state Water Quality Control Board, said there are only five sewage pump-out stations for boats in the harbor, far below state standards.
As a result of recent state legislation mandating more sewer facilities in coastal harbors, both state and city officials are in the process of trying to identify locations for more dockside sewer stations in Newport Harbor.
Meanwhile, Schneider and others say there is no way to monitor whether a boat owner is following the law by either dumping waste at sea or hooking up to the city's sewer system at the pump stations.
Some say that if charter boat operators are to peacefully co-exist with other bay users, they must police themselves. Many of the larger operators have joined Yacht Masters and Marine Associates of California, whose purpose is to organize charter boat owners and help solve some of the industry's problems.
"It's in the best interest of charter operators to take care of their own laundry," said David J. Banta, vice president of Blue Water Charter Concepts. "This is a good business, and I'd hate to see it sink."