Opponents seek an injunction on fees

Newport Beach residents unhappy with a large increase to residential dock rents will try to prevent the city from collecting the fee while their lawsuit works its way through court.

The Newport Beach Dock Owners Assn. announced Thursday that it will seek a temporary restraining order during a Tuesday court date barring the city from collecting the fee.

The Dock Owners Assn. is suing the city, alleging it violated California’s open meetings law while it was considering the rate increases. The city denies the group’s allegations, saying any meetings were properly noticed and conducted.

The suit argues that a three-person city council committee violated the Ralph M. Brown Act by meeting long after the committee was scheduled to expire in March 2011 and shuffling committee members without any public notice.

Late last year, the City Council voted to increase rent for private residential docks over public waters from a flat annual fee of $100 to 52.5 cents per square foot per year.

Newport Beach has sent out its first wave of bills for the increased fee, which is scheduled to be phased in over five years with the first increase this year, City Manager Dave Kiff said.

But the Dock Owners Assn. argues it’s premature to collect until the litigation is settled.

“We granted the city’s request for extra time to respond to our Brown Act lawsuit — little did we know that we were being set up so they could begin the Dock Tax assessment using the bi-monthly utility bill to trigger the tax,” Bob McCaffrey, chairman, Newport Beach Dock Owners Assn., said in a prepared statement. “There is no permit to sign or document to review; the Dock Tax is buried on a bill that that includes a trash recycling fee, water, sewer, and ‘other agency’ charges. It’s deceptive, tricky, and dishonest.”

Newport Beach filed its own motion in February asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit. The city’s hearing is scheduled for May 16.

The Dock Owners Assn. is conflating two temporary groups and incorrectly alleging they became a permanent arm of the council, according to the motion.

An ad hoc committee the council created to address commercial dock rents and a working group that evaluated residential dock fees never overlapped, had different members and considered two separate issues, the city argues.

The committee met from July 2010 to March 2011, and the working group met from late 2011 to December 2012, according to the motion.

“Nevertheless, in an effort to state a cause of action for violation of the Brown Act, Plaintiffs attempt to allege that the ad hoc committee (exempt from the Brown Act) and the working group (also exempt from the Brown Act) magically combined to create a new ‘standing committee’ that was subject to the act’s notice and open meeting requirements,” it states.