Newport Beach harbor officials have agreed to revoke a boat owner’s mooring permit because code enforcers say his yacht is overly cluttered, too long for its space, blighted and likely not seaworthy. And then there’s the unpermitted homemade osprey roost lashed to its stern.
The owner vigorously denied all the reasons the city gave for evicting him from the municipally managed waters.
“Everything on that vessel has a purpose and it’s commensurate with the activities that I do. There is no junk or debris or trash,” owner John Panek said at Wednesday’s Harbor Commission meeting, where the panel voted 5-0 to yank the mooring privileges for Panek’s vessel. Two commissioners were absent.
Panek has a month to vacate his mooring or appeal the decision to the City Council, which would stay the eviction process. His lawyer, Lou Pilato, said that he expects Panek to appeal.
The boat, a 64-foot, blue-and-white 1973 Hefner cabin cruiser named Wild Wave, is a commercial fishing support vessel and thus is exempt from Newport’s rules, Panek argued. Newport Harbor is home to about 1,200 moorings, generally for pleasure craft.
Deputy City Atty. Armeen Komeili said commercial vessels are covered by some sections of the harbor code, including the one regulating trash on decks.
After more than an hour of questioning, a slideshow showing close-up pictures of peeling hull paint, thick greenish marine growth at the waterline and an accumulation of dinghies, outboard motors, tarps and bins about the deck, the commission didn’t buy Panek’s explanations.
Commissioner Ira Beer said it was clear that Wild Wave is a public nuisance, that the city hasn’t been given satisfactory proof of insurance for it and that the boat’s stated 64-foot length on Coast Guard documentation conflicts with the 59 feet written on Panek’s permit application with the city.
The 5-foot discrepancy matters because the city charges for moorings based on length. It also requires a different chain thickness depending on mooring size. Wild Wave is in a 60-foot mooring but should be in a 65-foot mooring, the city says.
Panek, who lives in Long Beach and describes himself as a marine biologist and mechanical contractor, told the commission that Wild Wave has admirers and visitors. He also said the state approved his floating osprey roost, which has a base about the size of a shipping pallet, an unoccupied platform and a whimsically hand-lettered sign. It’s tethered to the stern of Wild Wave, trailing the boat by a few feet.
The city calls it a navigational hazard, especially at night.
Neighbors closest to the vessel told the city that Panek works on the boat into the night, using what sounds like sanders, power saws, drills and welding equipment.
One neighbor said in a written complaint that Wild Wave is “blight.” Others said Panek is inconsiderate and defiant.
“This derelict boat does not reflect the overall image of Newport Harbor. He is not a ‘good neighbor.’ He does not want to conform to the standards of the city,” wrote Jerry and Bonnie McClellan. “He spews sawdust, paint scrapings and who knows what else into the water — always in the evenings. This work is the kind of work that needs to be done in a boat yard where there are facilities to clean up.”
Panek said he works on improvements to the boat while it is moored but does his commercial activity outside the harbor.
However, city code enforcement supervisor Matt Cosylion said that to his knowledge, Wild Wave has left its mooring only twice since last year and that one of those times was at the city’s request to demonstrate seaworthiness.
Cosylion said the city revokes mooring permits as a last resort.
“We only recommend [revocation] when we believe that all other avenues for gaining voluntary compliance have been exhausted or if we believe that the permittee hooked to the mooring has demonstrated lack of desire or unwillingness or inability to meet and engage with staff and to address any of our concerns related to their mooring or to their vessel,” Cosylion said.
Panek has exchanged extensive emails with city staff but has declined meetings, Cosylion said. Records show exchanges going back to at least August 2017, about the time Panek got into a dispute with the city’s mooring inspection contractor over work the contractor had done on the chains connecting Wild Wave to 6 tons of weights keeping the boat in place.