Fee hike targets marina tenants

NEWPORT BEACH — As the city continues to raise fees from users of Newport Harbor, the latest targets are tenants of the city-owned and -managed Balboa Yacht Basin marina.

With affordable boat slips, garages and apartments, the yacht basin has historically been one of the lowest-priced marinas in the bay.

And its tenants want to keep it that way. They plan to contest the proposed rent hike at a special City Council meeting Monday night.

This comes less than two weeks after the council voted to raise rates for moorings, the floating cans that are some of the least expensive points in the bay to store a boat. Rate increases across the harbor are needed to pay for expensive projects like dredging and the upcoming Marina Park development, city officials say. And a good place to start, they reasoned, are with people who have been paying well below the market rate.

"This is public property and I think the city should be getting fair value for it," said Councilman Ed Selich, who served on the Committee on Harbor Charges that recommended the new rents.

The proposal would raise the rates at each of the 176 slips, depending on its size. For instance, for a 40-foot slip the rate would increase from $19 per foot (of the boat) per month, to about $30 per foot per month. The increase would be phased in over three years.

As with the moorings, the committee based the rents on rates that private marinas charge in Newport.

Balboa Yacht Basin slip holders say that the yacht basin doesn't have the amenities like some of the private marinas, so they shouldn't have to pay as much. Newport Dunes, for example, has secured parking and a pool.

"You've got to charge a reasonable rate for a comparable product," said Brian Mason, who keeps his 40-foot Carver powerboat in the basin.

Tucked away between Balboa Island and Bayside Drive, the Balboa Yacht Basin is relatively close to the harbor entrance, an advantage that the city says makes up for any amenities.

Another argument made by the yacht basin tenants during two recent city outreach meetings was that private marinas will discount significantly from their listed rates. So if the city sets rents based on the "rack rate" it would be creating an artificially high price.

In response, the city committee actually sent a "secret shopper" to the marinas and negotiated some lower rents, Selich said.

They ended up lowering the proposed yacht basin rent, although not by much.

That concession was gained in part by Mason, who for a living leases space from international ports for a major auto manufacturer. He has used his trade knowledge to lobby city officials to keep the basin affordable. After the city lowered the rent proposal, Mason said it was more reasonable.

"The reality is, yes, we have been very fortunate and have had well below market rates," he said. "It has been a great deal."

Even with the concessions, Mason anticipates that a good number of boaters will show up at 7 p.m. at City Council Chambers, to protest the rate hike.

"They don't want to pay more money and I don't blame them," Selich said. "But just because the city is a public agency there's no reason we should be discounting assets."

If the council votes in favor of the proposal, the rents at the 31 garages and three apartments would be raised as well. Garages would go from $200 per month to $325 per month by 2012, and the two-bedroom apartments would increase from either $1,700 per month or $2,000 per month, to $2,250 per month by 2012.

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