Council moves to kill harbor buffer fee

Residential dock permit holders in Newport Beach, though perhaps still upset over recent changes in how fees are applied on structures over public tidelands, won a small concession Tuesday.

During a study session before its regular meeting Tuesday, the Newport Beach City Council directed staff to strike a "buffer area" around docks that had been included in the calculations of total square footage to which dock fees would be applied.

"It's hard to say that it just doesn't look like it's absolutely arbitrary," Mayor Pro Tem Rush Hill said of the buffer lines, before suggesting they be eliminated.

While the footprint of a pier, gangway and floating dock would still be charged full-price rent, staff had recommended that the buffer area of up to 10 feet be charged half-price. No charge would apply to any buffer smaller than 5 feet.

However, the council members — Leslie Daigle was absent and Edward Selich recused himself — rejected all buffer fees.

Staff also recommended that the interior of any U-shaped pier be half-price, though council members suggested that in this case, the full rate remain.

This "look back" at the various harbor fee changes, which have been approved over the past few years, came at the suggestion of the City Council. The review served to possibly temper the increases in the way rents are calculated on residential piers, which changed in a December 2012 vote from a flat $100 fee annually to a 52.5 cents per square foot of usable dock space in yearly rent.

Other recommended changes that went unchallenged by City Council members include a simplification of the language on the residential pier permit and the added option of a five- or 10-year permit, as well as an immediate reduction in the rent charged for very small residential piers to the projected 2018 level rather than an incremental reduction year by year until then.

Council members also agreed on a reclassification of the Lido Isle Community Assn. marina from commercial to residential since it is not used for significant revenue-generating purposes.

No changes to mooring rents were proposed in the "look back," according to the staff report, though it said that the funds collected by the Harbor Patrol from the rental fees charged to boaters who rent moorings on visits to the Newport Harbor would be set aside explicitly for projects that will benefit mooring permit holders, provided appropriate and useful projects could be identified.

The staff suggestions drew from public feedback collected at two August meetings on recent harbor decisions.

The direction from the council Tuesday will lead to a first reading of an ordinance drafted according to that input, possibly at the next meeting Nov. 26.

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