NEWPORT BEACH — While the City Council reformed aspects of its harbor mooring management on Nov. 23, it left intact one of the practices identified by a grand jury critical of the process.
Under the new rules, two yacht clubs will still be able to lease some of the public moorings from the city and distribute them among members.
The practice, which has been in place for generations, restricts the public's access to about 20% of the 800 offshore moorings (those in the depths of the harbor as opposed to on the shore). But City Council members and yacht club representatives say that it's a mutually beneficial arrangement that should be maintained.
"I see them providing what the city doesn't do very well; they provide facilities for dedicated boaters," said Councilwoman Leslie Daigle. "It's like a private-public partnership."
Unlike boaters who lease the city's other offshore moorings, those on the Balboa Yacht Club and Newport Harbor Yacht Club buoys can bring their crafts to the clubs' docks for maintenance, restocking on water and supplies, and cleaning. Also, the yacht clubs take members out to their moorings on "shore boats" and monitor moored boats during storms.
The city requires moorings to be held in individuals' names, but it has made an exception for BYC, NHYC and the Lido Isle Community Assn, which manages some onshore moorings.
Also, the city has made exceptions for family trusts. The 2007 grand jury report pointed out these exceptions and recommended that the city review the process.
But three years later, after failed reform attempts, the City Council's ad hoc committee passed on changing the yacht clubs' situation.
Councilman Steve Rosansky, who was on the committee, said it was not asked to address the broader question if yacht clubs should be allowed to hold moorings.
It was specifically tasked with reviewing fees, he said.
Rosansky anticipates the City Council will address the yacht clubs' mooring arrangement soon.
In the meantime, the clubs will continue to pay the same fees that other mooring holders pay. Brad Avery, the commodore at NHYC, said the club will eventually triple the rate it charges members to moor, to be aligned with the city's new rates.
Already, it charges $8 per foot of the boat, per month, while the city charges about $2 per foot per month.
The extra cost covers services the club provides, Avery said.
But to get one of the club moorings, a boater has to be a member.
Membership dues are around $200 per month at Balboa Yacht Club, for instance. Newport Harbor charges $10,000 upfront to join the club. Perhaps more limiting is the process: Each club restricts its number of members, and requires a vetting process for new members.
NHYC and BYC have about 800 members each and a waiting list for the 70 or so moorings located in front of each of the clubs.
According to the grand jury report, the city gave those moorings to the clubs between the 1920s and 1940s so they could lease them to their members.
"[Yacht clubs] have been a part of the city's history and fabric for over a hundred years," said Avery.
He pointed out that club members use their moored boats much more than the general population of harbor mooring holders, and they're more likely to take care of their boats. The city has had problems in the past with derelict boats taking up space.
"We don't see the problems in yacht club moorings that we see in others," Daigle said.
One of the biggest problems that the city sought to address by raising rates and limiting private transfers was the so-called black market that had developed to trade moorings.
On the BYC website some members have posted classified ads looking to buy or sell moorings near the yacht club, but Peter Bretschger, vice commodore of BYC, said that yacht club moorings are not allowed to be bought or sold.
Those are moorings that members lease from the city, he said.
A new lease arrangement may be in the future for yacht club moorings, Rosansky said.
Right now, the clubs pay for the moorings in the same fashion as an individual mooring holder, but for a group of the cans. One arrangement Rosansky thought would be better is some sort of commercial lease, as the city does with private marinas or other organizations that are atop city tidelands.
"They would be treated just like any other commercial tenant of ours in the harbor," Rosansky said.
In Lido Marina Village, for example, the city is appraising the marina and will reassess its lease rate for using the city-owned tidelands. Rosansky expected the council to assign some new tasks to the ad-hoc committee in January.
But Bretschger said the arraignment is fine as it stands, and that the clubs play an important role that benefits the harbor.
"The yacht clubs have always been supporting seamanship and access to the waterfront," he said.
Daigle added, "What people tend to forget is that yacht club members are members of the public, too."