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Newport Beach gives initial OK to unlimited mooring transfers at a higher cost

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Newport Harbor has about 1,200 moorings among 12 mooring fields like this, which are essentially watery parking lots.

Newport Beach city leaders Tuesday night took a step forward to loosen regulations on the process of transferring mooring permits in Newport Harbor, while increasing the cost of transfers.

The City Council voted 6-1 to allow unlimited transfers for the life of a mooring permit — as often as once a year — between private parties. The council also voted to increase the transfer charge to 75% of the annual rent, or about $1,062 per transfer.

Currently, the transfer charge is half the annual rent, or about $708.

Before the new code can take effect, the council will have to approve the changes again during a second reading at its next meeting.

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Newport Harbor encompasses about 1,200 moorings — 800 offshore and 400 onshore — among 12 mooring fields, which are essentially watery parking lots.

Moorings are marked by floating cans tied to either end of a boat, with chains, weights, lines and other items collectively referred to as tackle. Boat owners rent their spaces within the boundaries marked by the tackle, with a city-issued permit allowing them that patch of water.

Council members swiftly accepted most of the proposed code changes, but the cost of permit transfers was a point of debate.

Mayor Kevin Muldoon dissented in the vote, saying he wasn’t comfortable with increasing the cost. He likened it to an unnecessary tax increase.

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“I, for one, don’t believe in increasing taxes and fees in the city, especially a city as well-heeled as we are for low-income boat access,” Muldoon said.

Earlier in the evening, the council had voted 5-2, with members Brad Avery and Diane Dixon dissenting, to keep the current 50% transfer charge. But toward the end of the meeting, Councilman Scott Peotter called up the matter for reconsideration and the council voted to increase the cost.

“The amount of money is … not the end of the world,” Peotter said.

The adjustment would increase annual transfer-related revenue to the city Tidelands Fund from about $30,000 to about $45,000, according to city staff.

The city conducted an extensive review of mooring permit rental rates in 2010 while updating rates and regulations for the first time since 1994. The move kicked off a years-long debate between boaters and city leaders over the cost of permits.

After significant push-back from boaters, the City Council in January 2016 decided to sharply reduce the cost of onshore and offshore moorings.

The council at the time also directed the Harbor Commission to look at other possible changes to the mooring permit policy.

Avery said the Harbor Commission’s mooring subcommittee discussed the cost of the transfers at length over several months. Mooring holders who attended those meetings appeared to be amenable to the 75% charge, Avery said.

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“I believe they felt that was a fair conclusion,” he said.

The new code also would allow two names on a permit, two permits per permit holder, and would set up a process to auction revoked permits.

Most significantly, city staff said, it would allow permit holders to transfer their permit as many times as they like — though no more than once per year — for the life of the document.

Under the current rules, enacted in 2010, a permit holder can transfer his or her permit only twice before 2020.

After 2020, the permit could not be transferred at all. Owners who no longer want their patch of water would have to return their permit to the city, enabling the city to offer it to the next person on the waiting list.

But such surrenders didn’t happen much, and the waiting list has names going back to the 1970s. Owners did transfer permits, but through private sales.

Putting permit movement back in the market’s hands means the city would abolish the waiting list. But to keep track of transfers and sales and to show trends, city staff plans to list sales and transfers on a city-maintained website.

hannah.fry@latimes.com

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Twitter: @HannahFryTCN


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