Newport Beach councilman wants to save the Christmas Boat Parade

A colorful Duffy boat moves along the route.
A colorful Duffy boat moves along the route during the 111th Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade in 2019.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Councilman Kevin Muldoon is trying to save Christmas — well, trying to save the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade, at least.

The parade, which would have seen its 112th iteration this year, was cancelled on Wednesday by the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce. Organizers pointed to the rise in cases of the coronavirus and the recent shift of Orange County — along with nearly 40 other counties in the state — to the purple, “widespread” tier.

Chamber Chief Executive Officer and President Steven Rosansky said Friday that the decision to cancel came down to public safety.

“We always said we would move forward with the planning of the parade with the understanding that we would reevaluate the decision as we got closer to the event,” Rosansky said. “With the recent spike in the coronavirus numbers and Gov. [Gavin] Newsom’s actions this week, we no longer felt we could justify holding a five-day event that brings hundreds of thousands of people into the city from all over Southern California.”

Rosansky said it would have been impossible to ensure visitors were wearing masks or facial coverings and abiding by social distancing mandates in places where people could possibly gather to view the parade in Newport Harbor, such as on Balboa Island, Balboa Village and the public docks around the harbor.

The parade typically generates an estimated $7 million to $10 million in revenue, according to studies done by Newport Beach and Co. Rosansky said a typical year usually sees 80 to 90 boats registered, though other unregistered boats often tag along at the end. This year’s was initially supposed to be streamed virtually Dec. 16 to 20.

A fishing vessel moves along the route during the 111th Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade.
A fishing vessel moves along the route during the 111th Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade in 2019.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“It was for the protection of Newport Beach residents as well as visitors,” Rosansky said.

Rosansky said that the chamber has received a number of phone calls, emails and social media posts about the parade’s cancellation. Most have been supportive, but some expressed frustration.

“I think that the thread that runs through all the responses is disappointment that the parade is not happening this year,” Rosansky said.

Muldoon said that he saw similar responses from the public on social media but also saw residents mobilizing to try and keep the event alive.

Muldoon submitted a request to Newport Beach City Manager Grace Leung on Wednesday night, just hours after the announcement came out, to discuss the possibility of the city assisting the parade.

The item will not be on the council’s upcoming meeting on Tuesday, but Muldoon expects council members to consider it on Dec. 8.

“There are a group of unofficial organizers working on keeping the boat parade alive using increased safety measures, and I’m hopeful that the city can assist in the operations and public safety support that we give every year for this historic event,” Muldoon said.

Muldoon said he felt it was possible for the city to help with financial resources or by helping coordinate safety measures and figuring out what days might be safer to avoid crowding.

“The parade signifies the hope we all feel at the end of the year when we celebrate Christmas and the New Year. For so many, it’s been a very difficult year,” he said. “Many have faced losses and depression, and I think a little bit of holiday cheer would go a long way.”

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