Council triples mooring fees

NEWPORT BEACH — Despite an outcry from dozens of angry boaters, the City Council on Tuesday night voted to triple Newport Harbor mooring fees and to end the practice of private mooring transfers.

In a 4-2 vote, the council raised fees for the first time since 1996 and rejected arguments from a group of mooring holders.

The vote ends three years of attempts to reform the public mooring system, which an Orange County grand jury in 2007 criticized for its private profits and other deficiencies.

"We have failed to adjust these fees over this time," Mayor Keith Curry said. "Now we are finally coming to terms with 14 years of failure to responsibly act."

Curry and Councilmen Steve Rosansky, Mike Henn and Ed Selich voted for the ordinance while Leslie Daigle and Nancy Gardner voted no. Don Webb, a 40-year member of the Balboa Yacht Club, recused himself because BYC has city moorings.

Currently, the annual mooring fees are $20 per linear foot of a boat, compared with more than $500 per foot at a private marina.

The city's ordinance aims to make moorings 14% of the average Newport marina rent. That would raise the typical 40-foot mooring cost from about $70 per month to about $200. The city plans to phase in the increase over five years.

"The mooring holders are getting hit hard financially and unnecessarily," said Patricia Newton, a member of the Newport Mooring Assn., an advocacy group that organized the protest.

Sailors in navy blue windbreakers and Hawaiian shirts lined the aisles of the Council Chambers. One boater after another explained why he or she thought the council should not raise the fees or eliminate the ability to transfer moorings to another private party.

While it's illegal to sell a mooring, the holders have been able to sell their boats and then transfer the mooring permits to the new owners. This sometimes led to decrepit boats selling for tens of thousands of dollars.

Under the city's new ordinance, a mooring holder will be able to transfer the permit twice over the next 10 years, potentially giving the boaters who paid thousands the ability to recoup some of the cost. After that, transfers will be prohibited except for within an immediate family or with another mooring holder.

If someone buys a boat on the mooring, he or she will have six months to find a new place, at which point the city will assign the can to someone on its waiting list. With 193 people, the waiting list hasn't advanced since at least 2007.

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