The state has stepped in after the Orange County Sheriff’s Department reduced access to public docks and a small bay-facing beach next to the sheriff’s Harbor Patrol headquarters in Newport Beach.
The California Coastal Commission’s enforcement division notified the Sheriff’s Department this week that taking three visitor docks out of service, reducing the length of dinghy stays and relocating beach parking were done without necessary commission approval.
The Coastal Commission enforces the state Coastal Act, which regulates land use near shore. That includes maximizing public access to the coast and ocean.
“Our staff recognizes the critically important public safety and maritime security services that the [Harbor Patrol] facility and its staff provide to the community, and we’re confident that achieving the goals of our agencies can be harmonized,” enforcement officer Jordan Sanchez wrote in a letter dated Monday to Lt. Chris Corn, the Sheriff’s Department’s harbormaster.
The letter states a willingness to work with the Harbor Patrol to implement some changes to dock and beach access, as long as the Sheriff’s Department applies for a permit amendment allowing the adjustments. The Harbor Patrol is operating under development permits from 1995 and 2008 that explicitly mention maintaining public access to the beach and docks via water and land.
Changes that raised the commission’s concerns include turning a dock for brief loading and unloading of boat passengers into an emergency services dock, moving the loading zone to the sewage pump-out dock by the beach, giving two of the five longer-stay guest slips to lifeguard boats and reducing the time a dinghy can stay tied up from 72 hours to 20 minutes. Beach parking, previously in spaces closest to the sand, was moved slightly at least two years ago to spaces closer to the sheriff’s building entrance.
Corn said in an interview Thursday that the beach parking relocation and some of the Harbor Patrol dock use preceded his arrival in Newport Beach in April 2018 to oversee the division. He said he made changes at other docks in June in the best interests of the department, unaware of the state’s detailed, strict procedures.
The emergency dock designation was for security reasons because the department keeps its patrol and fire boats nearby, Corn said. The dinghy dock restrictions came after sheriff’s staff determined that some boaters were using the corral-like space, which can fit several small boats at a time, for boat storage much longer than three days.
Corn said some small-boat users would approach the beach and see the dinghy dock full, “so they would turn around and leave.” He said he would be willing to extend the time limit.
Corn added that beach visitors can use staff parking on weekends, doubling public parking capacity to 21 slots.
Andrew Willis, the Coastal Commission’s enforcement supervisor for Southern California, said the issue is complicated by the docks being shared by public safety and recreational users. He said the Sheriff’s Department responded to the commission quickly and cooperatively.
He said commission staff will visit the site at 1901 Bayside Drive in Corona del Mar to help sheriff’s staff begin the permit amendment process, which could take months. A proposed amendment would require a commission vote.
No immediate changes have been required.