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Opinion

Commentary: It’s time for the city charter to protect Newport Harbor

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Newport Beach City Councilman Marshall “Duffy” Duffield is proposing incorporating the Harbor Commission into the city charter.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Newport Harbor is the cultural, recreational and economic engine of our community.

A 2018 analysis by Beacon Economics shows Newport Harbor generates $392 million in direct economic activity and $1 billion in indirect economic activity across the nation.

The harbor is far more than a playground for wealthy yacht owners. For a hundred years the harbor is where our children learned to swim, sail and enjoy the unique lifestyle that makes Newport special.

Our residents are unaware that at least 11 governmental agencies from Washington, Sacramento and Santa Ana have jurisdictional control over the harbor. It’s one of the most-regulated bodies of water in the nation.

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We are at an inflection point in the harbor. Our marine-serving businesses are vanishing and being replaced with condominiums.

For decades the city has been marginally successful juggling the multi-jurisdictional regulatory maze. Key to our success is the Harbor Commission. The commission is an advisory committee of residents with expertise in harbor and marine issues. Members are appointed by the City Council and are invaluable to the council’s policymaking role.

For the first time in over a decade they are rewriting Title 17 Harbor Code — the regulations that control the harbor.

But the Harbor Commission can be abolished by any future City Council because it is not memorialized in our city charter. In 2012 a previous council attempted to abolish the commission and replace it with a Tidelands subcommittee of council members with the goal of raising residential dock taxes and commercial marina fees.

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Our Harbor Department is the implementation arm of the city’s policies developed in consultation with the Harbor Commission.

At the next council meeting I will propose a charter amendment to include the Harbor Commission and Harbor Department in our charter. If my colleagues agree, the public will have an opportunity to decide our harbor’s future and protect it from future politicians that do not make the harbor a priority.

Marshall “Duffy” Duffield is a Newport Beach city councilman.


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