Mooring fee issue is on deck

For sailors and mooring renters who complain there wasn't enough input into Newport Beach's proposed mooring fee increases, they'll get their chance Tuesday when the City Council looks into the issue at a study session.

"It was a simple kind of analysis, I challenge anyone to upend it," said City Manager Dave Kiff, discussing the methodology behind an ad hoc committee's suggestion that offshore mooring fees nearly triple. "I don't know an outside consultant would tell me anything other than what the mooring folks would tell me."

Earlier this year, the City Council created an ad hoc committee to explore raising mooring fees and adjusting mooring transfers in Newport Harbor. Offshore mooring costs hadn't been addressed in at least 14 years and are far below fee in other similar harbors in Southern California.

When the city negotiated a new contract with the Orange County Sheriff's Department earlier this year, the annual cost for the Harbor Patrol to oversee the moorings jumped more than 260% to $290,000.

Newport Beach and the harbor patrol agreed to gradually reach that level over five years, with incremental annual contract increases until 2015.

During negotiations, many mooring renters were told that their fees might increase to offset the costs.

There were few, if any objections.

The criticisms stem from the council's ad hoc committee. Longtime sailors like Bill Moses, a member of the Newport Mooring Assn., said they do not believe committee members are adequately familiar with harbor and mooring issues, leading them to suggest the price spikes.

Kiff countered that anyone with a stake in mooring prices and transfers shouldn't be involved because it could be a conflict of interest.

The committee, comprised of Councilmen Ed Selich, Mike Henn and Steve Rosansky, came back with its recommendations earlier this week and will present them to the council Tuesday.

Among the suggestions: raise the fee of onshore and offshore moorings and limit the times a mooring title can be transferred to once every five years, except for immediate family members.

The moorings are a complex subject, said mooring association member Carter Ford.

The issue "deserves the experience, professional background of an appraisal company that does that type of work," he said. "[Kiff] has good intentions. This process is sadly in my view, very sadly, leading to a lot of distress."

Kiff points to the waiting list upward of 35 years for some people wanting a mooring in Newport Harbor.

Kiff said that's because even when people no longer sail, the moorings are so coveted they sell the permit for an exorbitant profit.

A mooring that costs $800 to rent annually, might be sold for $40,000, he said.

"We're not saying people should be selling public assets for personal property," Moses said.

A search of Craigslist on Friday night showed asking prices as high as $65,000.

The details of how onshore mooring fees will be increased has yet to be determined, said Harbor Commission Director Chris Miller.

The committee's and Kiff's recommendation for offshore moorings is to make the fee 14% of what a similarly sized slip costs.

Currently they cost about 5% of a slip.

"We looked up and down the state, what's charged for a mooring that also has berths," Kiff said. "Moorings were anywhere from 14 to 30%. What I propose, I'll go with the lowest one. Isn't that fair?"

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