NEWPORT BEACH : City Council OKs Charter Cruise Tax

A controversial head tax on Newport Harbor charter cruises squeaked past the City Council on Monday night, over the objections of several charter boat owners who said they are struggling to keep their industry afloat.

The 80 Newport Beach charter companies subject to the new tax will have to pay 50 cents per passenger on tickets priced $26 to $50 and $1 each for tickets of $50 or more. Charters based elsewhere will have to pay $50 for up to 50 passengers and $100 for 50 or more.

Charter owners complained that the tax, which takes effect in 30 days, will force them to raise prices beyond what the market will bear.

"Be it brides, be it corporations, we are constantly being asked for (price) adjustments" by customers, said Debra Schoonmaker, who owns a one-woman operation. Corporations decide whether to charter a boat "based on $100 to $200. They are nickel-and-diming."

Charter owner Roy King said Long Beach charged a $580 fee for a recent four-hour tour he took there, "but that was because I was from out of the harbor. I was a transit," he said. More of the burden should fall to outside charters, he and others said.

The Newport Harbor Area Chamber of Commerce's Marine Division, which claims most charter owners as members and worked with the city for months on the ordinance, withdrew its support at the last minute because of an exemption for sportfishing and whale watching boats.

Councilman John W. Hedges warned those companies that they could be taxed eventually and keeping silent would not spare them.

"If you think that feeding the alligators is going to cause you to be eaten last, I have a feeling you're in for a rude awakening," he said.

He and council members Phil Sansone and Evelyn R. Hart voted against the tax.

Councilwoman Janice A. Debay voted for the tax but said she would work to shift more of the cost to out-of-town operators.

She also asked city staff to seek ways to provide parking and a public dock, so the city could collect use fees now paid to private parties rather than a tax.

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