Newport proposes new harbor and utilities departments

Reasoning that Newport Harbor is a crucial resource, Newport Beach city staff wants the harbor divisions to pair up and become a new department.

The proposed Harbor Department would report to the city manager and be a combination of harbor operations — which handles day-to-day on-the-water issues such as mooring management and code enforcement — and harbor resources, which handles permitting and other land-use functions.

Currently, harbor resources is a unit of the Public Works Department, and harbor operations is under Assistant City Manager Carol Jacobs.

The proposed department would begin next year with a budget of about $2.1 million. About half of that would support the equivalent of 11 full-time jobs covering management, customer service, administrative support and code enforcement.

Jacobs said the city budgeted about $1.7 million between the two divisions this year, with a largely part-time staff, including a harbormaster.

The new department would add the equivalent of five full-time jobs, all under the harbormaster’s supervision.

The two-person harbor resources side would stay the same, while the harbor operations side would have dockmasters, administrative assistants, code officers and customer service staffers. The dockmaster position is currently contracted out.

Last year, the city took over a major portion of harbor management when it ended its contract with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Harbor Patrol for mooring administration and code enforcement. The Sheriff’s Department still responds to emergency and public safety calls on the water.

Jacobs found a receptive ear on the City Council when she pitched the Harbor Department idea last week.

Councilman Brad Avery, a former city harbor commissioner, said the added resources would help maintain and improve the harbor — an economic engine with an annual impact of about $200 million, according to a study.

Harbor use has intensified in the past 20 years, and stricter code enforcement is required to tackle nuisance issues such as disruptive boat parties and speeding vessels, Avery said.

“Protecting the overall environment of the harbor where people go away happy — whether they walk back into their homes or they’re getting into their car and driving inland or whatever they’re doing — that’s a win for us,” he said.

Utilities spinoff proposed

City officials also are considering dissolving the Municipal Operations Department by moving its general services portion into the Public Works Department and allowing its utilities arm to stand alone as a department.

City Manager Dave Kiff said that reflects a more traditional model in which operations and engineering teams work closely under the same supervisor.

Currently, municipal operations employs 102 people, split almost evenly between general services and utilities.

General services maintains the beaches, streets, facilities, equipment, parks and trees. Utilities handles water and sewer operations, storm drains, street sweeping, oil, gas, streetlights and other electrical functions. Public works covers infrastructure and traffic planning, engineering and construction, development review and permitting, and water quality and environmental services.

The city formed the Municipal Operations Department in 2011 after reviewing workflow, costs and staffing during the recession. General services and utilities had been separate departments for decades before.

Municipal operations was run by two co-directors, but the city reevaluated with their recent retirements, Jacobs said.

“We think this might … allow for some additional coordination and ability to make sure that we’re maintaining our infrastructure to the highest levels possible,” she said.

The proposed realignment would include some cost savings, as the head of general services would be a division manager instead of a higher-ranking director.

City staff plans to return to the City Council later this month with ordinances to create the proposed new or reconstituted public works, utilities and harbor departments.

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