Pay to enjoy Upper Bay?

New California Department of Fish and Wildlife signs telling users of the Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve that they may be subject to a fee have left Newport Beach residents and officials scratching their heads.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, the City Council is set to discuss the matter and authorize the city to send the department a letter asking that the reserve be free.

The signs indicate that users must have a Lands Pass — which costs $4.32 for a day at the reserve or $22.68 for the year and is required for people who want to hike, bike, bird watch or do anything but hunt in any of seven Fish and Wildlife-managed areas, including the Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve, the Gray Lodge Wildlife Area in Butte County and the Grizzly Island Wildlife Area in Solano County.

City Manager Dave Kiff said he wasn’t sure when the Lands Pass requirement went into effect, although the fee seems to have “been on the Sacramento books” for several years. In the Back Bay, however, that requirement was not enforced. Then the signs appeared about three weeks ago saying, as Kiff put it, “This is an obligation here and we’re going to start collecting.”

A Fish and Wildlife spokesperson could not be reached for comment Friday.

According to a staff report, money generated by Lands Pass sales “attempts to cover some of the costs of lands management at reserves and wildlife areas across California.”

It is unclear how the state plans to enforce such a requirement at Upper Newport Bay, which is surrounded by trails accessible from numerous public roads.

“It’s easier for them to collect at more isolated reserves,” Kiff said. “Is somebody going to kind of motor up to you and say, ‘You just crossed over the line’?”

In the letter, the city pledges to continue to work with the department on volunteer land management and other efforts but urges leaders to “reconsider” the Lands Pass requirement.

“Knowing the tight fiscal situation that CDFW too often finds itself in, we can somewhat see the rationale behind CDFW’s application of its Land Pass requirement to places like [the Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve],” the letter says. “However, we believe the nature of [the reserve] is not conducive to collecting fees under the Lands Pass system, nor has our long-term partnership between CDFW, the city, and the county of Orange warranted its application.”


Horse permit, other items

In other business, the council is expected to take a step toward getting rid of a requirement that Santa Ana Heights residents have an annual use permit to keep three to six horses on their properties.

Because the city never established an official permitting procedure, no such permits had been issued, but thanks to lingering technicalities from the area’s annexation by Newport Beach about a decade ago, the city must ask the county for permission to formally remove the requirement.

The council also is expected to approve a long-term lease with the Girl Scouts of Orange County, which would allow the organization to build and run a Leadership Center at the planned Marina Park.

The lease, a staff report said, would allow the Girl Scouts to pay $50 for a 50-year term — a dollar per year. The organization would pay for construction and other costs.

“The recommended actions would continue the city’s long-standing history of supporting the Girl Scout organization, which has been serving our community for decades,” according to the staff report.

Also up for consideration will be appointments to various city boards and commissions. Nominees are listed in the council agenda.

The meeting is at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at 100 Civic Center Drive. There is no study session this week.