City officials and residents are expecting legal challenges as Newport Beach considers charging private dock owners whose piers extend over public tidelands.
After the City Council hiked mooring holders' rates last year, some called for the city to also charge dock owners, many of whom own an adjacent home.
Officials admit the landowners have special rights, and not all of the tidelands are managed by the city. A group of dock owners has formed to fight any new city fees.
"We're supposed to charge fair market value for the use of the tidelands," said Councilman Steve Rosansky, who sits on the Committee on Harbor Fees. "But it's really a legal nightmare because of all the different types of ownership."
Rosansky was to present some of the ideas to the Speak Up Newport community group Wednesday evening. He said the city is in early discussions.
Fees could potentially apply to two groups of dock owners, he said: those who use the "residential piers" for personal use, and those who rent slips to other boat owners. For decades, people have leased space on their docks, and the city is now considering taking a percentage of the rent, Rosansky said.
Bob McCaffrey, a dock owner on Balboa Island, said he is helping organize bayfront residents to oppose any new fees.
"I think it's just a move by the city to see who they can squeeze," McCaffrey said.
While mooring holders and dock owners use the tidelands similarly — floating their boats above them — a body of property law called littoral rights protects owners whose land abuts the bay.
"The dock owners are more wealthy, more powerful, and will probably take a much stronger stand," McCaffrey said.