Triple harbor fee increases are a forgone conclusion?
What? Wait a minute!
Have you ever sailed in a race and missed the first big wind shift? Well, most of you who race against me know I do that quite often. Man, have I missed a huge one this time.
I picked up the first signs of this wind shift from some of my sources more than two months ago when a friend of mine called. He told me about the possible mooring permit increase. I thought to myself that I have seen this shift before and it seems to roll down the course about every two years. I also thought to myself it's probably time for a rate increase, but it cannot go up any higher than my health insurance. Or can it?
I then received another phone call.
"Hey, Len. Will you meet with us and let us explain what is being endorsed by three City Council members, the city manager and will be brought in front of the City Council for a vote on Sept. 28, 2010?"
Hearing the concern in my friend's voice, I quickly accepted the invitation and started to look further into this subject. I came to find out this subject goes deeper than there is water in the harbor.
That's a bad analogy. How about deeper than anchoring off Catalina's Whites Cove on a Labor Day weekend?
Yeah, that's better.
So here is the short-course version of this issue: If the city of Newport Beach acts on this subject at this time, it will be acting in what I consider bad faith.
From my understanding, the city needs to slow down and sort things out. Please do not take me wrong, because I never recall telling a city to slow down before. I just want to make it clear that the stakeholders do not have an issue with an increase in fees, if it's fair, but rather the process to come to a fair market value.
It was my understanding, when this issue was brought up a number of years ago, that there would be no increase in harbor fees without a qualified tidelands appraisal done by a third party. It now appears the city staff has done an in-house appraisal by comparing the costs of moorings and slips in San Diego and blending it together and producing their own bottle of "Three Buck Chuck."
Now, I need to take two tacks back and look back at the first part of this upwind leg. The first item you should look at is that the tidelands (ocean beach and harbor) are state land, which is granted to the city with the condition that all money raised on those tidelands be used only toward the upkeep and maintenance of those lands for the public benefit.
Any excess revenue more than $250,000 must be returned to the state. This makes the city's accounting system open to question. And because this is our harbor, we need to demand for a harbor valuation study.
Like my father always told me, "You cannot fix the problem unless you know what's wrong."
The city claims that it is mandated to charge "fair market value." That's fine. I have no problem with that. All the city has to do, as they say, is "show me the money."
Like I said earlier, every sailor looks for the next big shift. State law regarding the tidelands mandates that the city "shall make no discrimination in rates, tolls, or charges for any service," and private pier owners should pay particular attention to what is going on with the moorings.
So, here we are on the downwind leg of this short course, with no appraisal as required by the California State Lands Commission. We're hoping the council will see the error of its ways, slow this process down and invite the public to participate before the night of the vote.
Did you also happen to notice the increase in the permits to maintain your docks? Two years ago, a permit to fix your dock was $57; today, it's up to $500.
And all along I thought my health insurance was unjust and too expensive.
On Wednesday I will be speaking at Newport Harbor Yacht Club's Yachtsmen Luncheon. I will be talking about this subject and other topics of interest. Everyone is invited. If you have a moment, please send me an e-mail to email@example.com on the subject you would like to address.
LEN BOSE is an experienced boater, yacht broker and boating columnist.