Commentary: Stop the Dock tax is prepared to fight City Hall

It started three years ago, innocently enough, by a well-meaning professional bureaucrat charged with managing Newport Harbor.

Then-Assistant City Manager Dave Kiff requested a Harbor Area Management Plan (HAMP), the City Council funded the $200,000 study and shazam — a solution in search of a problem was launched.

With more than $100 million in “improvements” to fend off global warming outlined in the HAMP, the bureaucrats had the validation they needed to set in motion the juggernaut resulting in the largest property tax levy in Newport’s history.

It’s similar to the process used to justify the new Taj Mahal. Cook up a study that says that the employees are too cramped, and magically a new $130 million-plus City Hall springs from the earth.

No matter how loopy and far-fetched, a study is the Holy Grail of bureaucratic existence. Funding its conclusions is an art form. First you need a straw man, like the state of California.

Enter Senate Bill 152 and the State Lands Commission, a small agency charged with managing the state’s public land where water and land meet.

Senate Bill 152 repealed a 1976 law exempting residential dock owners from paying tax on the submerged “tidelands” their docks are constructed over. City Hall’s bureaucrats and politicians had the perfect argument — we must raise harbor taxes on everyone because the state is making us do it.

One problem. Local blogger Danny Sullivan called the author of Senate Bill 152, who told him that the legislation exempted Newport Harbor because in 1978 the State Lands Commission delegated management of the Harbor to the City.


Never to be outfoxed in the pursuit of more taxes, the bureaucrats and politicians had to come up with a new reason — quickly, since they were about to lose the City Council majority vote in support of the tax increase.

A “Colombo” episode was launched. Magically and through the prism of infectious investigation, they found a new stalking horse — the state of California.

Imagine that, more than $1 million dollars a year in lawyers, city managers, harbor managers and assistants to assistants, and the best they could come up with is that the state made us do it.

In 1978, the Legislature conveyed Newport’s tidelands to the city for management. It slightly modified the “Beacon Bay” bill in 1995. The Beacon Bay bill (grant) is very specific: The residential parcels composing the community of Beacon Bay must pay fair market value for their leased parcels. Period.

The Beacon Bay bill does not say tax everything in the harbor at fair market value. If you are a bureaucrat or big-government politician trying to fund one of the largest and most expensive city bureaucracies in the state, you interpret the bill to raise taxes on everyone in the harbor.

The City Hall bureaucrats and politicians have raised taxes on everything that moves, makes a profit or might make a profit in Newport Harbor.

They need to be stopped. Stop the Dock Tax is prepared to sue, fight and change this City Council.

We hope there’s a happy ending for taxpayers.

BOB MCCAFFREY is chairman of Stop the Dock Tax & the Newport Beach Dock Owners Assn.