Newport Beach harbor officials agreed to revoke a boat owner’s mooring permit because code enforcers say his yacht is overly cluttered, too long for its space, blighted and likely unseaworthy. And then there’s the unpermitted homemade osprey roost lashed to its stern.
The owner vigorously denied all the reasons the city gave for evicting him from the municipally managed waters.
“Everything on that vessel has a purpose and it’s commensurate with the activities that I do. There is no junk or debris or trash,” owner John Panek said at Wednesday’s Harbor Commission meeting, where commissioners voted 5-0 to yank the mooring privileges for Panek’s vessel. Commissioners Scott Cunningham and John Drayton were absent.
Panek has a month to vacate his mooring or he can appeal the commission’s decision to the City Council, which would stay the eviction process. His lawyer, Lou Pilato, said Thursday that he expects Panek to appeal.
The boat, a 64-foot, blue-and-white 1973 Hefner cabin cruiser named Wild Wave, is a commercial fishing support vessel and thus is exempt from Newport’s rules, Panek argued. Newport Harbor is home to about 1,200 moorings, generally for pleasure craft.
Deputy City Attorney Armeen Komeili said commercial vessels are covered by some sections of the harbor code, including the one regulating trash on decks.
After more than an hour of questioning, a slideshow showing close-up pictures of peeling hull paint, thick greenish marine growth at the waterline and an accumulation of dinghies, outboard motors, tarps and bins about the deck, the commission didn’t buy Panek’s explanations either.
Commissioner Ira Beer said it was clear that Wild Wave is a public nuisance, that the city hasn’t been given satisfactory proof of insurance for it and that the boat’s stated 64-foot length on Coast Guard documentation conflicts with the 59 feet written on Panek’s permit application with the city.
The 5-foot discrepancy matters because the city charges for moorings based on length. It also requires a different chain thickness depending on mooring size. Wild Wave is in a 60-foot mooring but should be in a 65-foot mooring, the city says.
Panek took over his mooring near Bay Avenue and 11th Street, not far from the Newport Harbor Yacht Club, in 2015. It is a few dozen feet offshore.
“It just seems that this process has been going on for quite some time,” Beer said. “It just appears to me that not a lot of anything has been done with respect to the allegations made by the city.”
Panek, who lives in Long Beach and describes himself as a marine biologist and mechanical contractor, provided copies of letters from the Orange County assessor’s office related to his boat but blocked out much of the text as “redacted private enterprise information.”
He told the commission that Wild Wave has admirers and visitors. He also said the state approved his floating osprey roost, which has a base about the size of a shipping pallet, an unoccupied platform and a whimsically hand-lettered sign. It’s tethered to the stern of Wild Wave, trailing the boat by a few feet.
The city calls it a navigational hazard, especially at night.
Neighbors closest to the vessel told the city that Panek works on the boat into the night, using what sounds like sanders, power saws, drills and welding equipment.
One neighbor said in a written complaint that Wild Wave is “blight.” Others said Panek is inconsiderate and defiant.
“This derelict boat does not reflect the overall image of Newport Harbor. He is not a ‘good neighbor.’ He does not want to conform to the standards of the city,” wrote Jerry and Bonnie McClellan, who live on Bay Avenue. “He spews sawdust, paint scrapings and who knows what else into the water — always in the evenings. This work is the kind of work that needs to be done in a boat yard where there are facilities to clean up.”
Panek said he works on improvements to the boat while it is moored but does his commercial activity outside the harbor.
However, city code enforcement supervisor Matt Cosylion said that to his knowledge, Wild Wave has left its mooring only twice since last year and that one of those times was at the city’s request to demonstrate seaworthiness.
Cosylion said the city revokes mooring permits as a last resort.
Since taking over mooring administration from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s Harbor Patrol in July 2017, the city has moved to revoke four mooring permits, though it has actually pulled only two. One is Panek’s; the other, which the commission also revoked Wednesday, was for an onshore mooring on Balboa Island that held a 13-foot dinghy the city has impounded.
“We only recommend [revocation] when we believe that all other avenues for gaining voluntary compliance have been exhausted or if we believe that the permittee hooked to the mooring has demonstrated lack of desire or unwillingness or inability to meet and engage with staff and to address any of our concerns related to their mooring or to their vessel,” Cosylion said.
Panek has exchanged extensive emails with city staff but has declined meetings, Cosylion said. Records show exchanges going back to at least August 2017, about the time Panek got into a dispute with the city’s mooring inspection contractor over work the contractor had done on the chains connecting Wild Wave to 6 tons of weights keeping the boat in place.