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County seeks after-the-fact permission for Harbor Patrol changes to dock and beach access in Newport

California Coastal Commission has objected to the Orange County Sheriff Department?s recent restrict
The California Coastal Commission has objected to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s recent restrictions on access to public docks adjacent to the sheriff’s Harbor Patrol headquarters in Newport Beach.
(File Photo)

Orange County has asked the California Coastal Commission for permission to change access to the public docks and small bay-facing beach next to the Sheriff’s Department Harbor Patrol headquarters in Newport Beach, months after altering points of entry to the waterway and shore.

The application to amend the county’s state-issued coastal development permit comes after the commission notified the Sheriff’s Department in May that taking three visitor docks out of service, reducing the length of dinghy stays and relocating beach parking were done without necessary commission approval.

In its amendment application, the county seeks to “clarify” public access and offers several compromises and tweaks to the sheriff’s earlier adjustments to access around its property at 1901 Bayside Drive.

The current requests include:

  • Relaxing the dinghy tie-up limit from 20 minutes to between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., the same as the beach access hours. The dinghy dock previously had a three-day limit, but boaters were taking advantage of that and staying much longer, according to the application.
  • Returning two of the five longer-stay guest slips to public use after they had been set aside for lifeguard boats, with the county reserving the right to let the city of Newport Beach use them for rescue boat storage if they’re not rented out
  • Swapping the “keep out” signage around the public guest docks to instead say they are public and to ask the Harbor Patrol for rental information
  • Moving parking spaces from the area of the sheriff’s building entrance to the entrance on Bayside Drive
  • Installing signage for beach drop-off

The application maintains the Sheriff’s Department’s desire to turn a dock previously used for brief loading and unloading of boat passengers into an emergency services dock for public safety reasons — moving the loading zone instead to the sewage pump-out dock by the beach.

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In a May letter to Lt. Chris Corn, the Sheriff’s Department’s harbormaster, commission staff stated a willingness to work with the Harbor Patrol to implement some changes to dock and beach access, as long as the Sheriff’s Department applies for a permit amendment allowing the adjustments.

Corn has said that some of the apparent violations preceded his arrival in Newport Beach to oversee the division, and that he made other changes in the best interests of the department and its public safety role, unaware of the state’s strict procedures.

The Harbor Patrol operates under development permits from 1995 and 2008 that explicitly mention maintaining public access to the beach and docks via water and land.

The Coastal Commission enforces the state Coastal Act, which regulates land use near shore. That includes maximizing public access to the coast and ocean.

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Alex Carubis, a UC Irvine environmental law student speaking on behalf of Orange County Coastkeeper, told the commission during its Wednesday meeting in Newport to consider public access alongside emergency service needs when considering the amendment application. The application has not yet been placed on an agenda.

“OC Coastkeeper is concerned that public access will lose out once again, this time due to vague claims regarding public safety and security,” she said.

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