From The Boathouse: Marina 'tax' scary beyond words


Halloween will be zeroing in on everyone's radar Wednesday when the ghosts and goblins walk the streets on this nearly full moon night. My wife is polishing her broomstick for a ride across the skies and her caldron is warming up in the middle of the main salon.

Most everyone knows that boaters can be very superstitious, and most superstitions are centuries old. Yet, even modern seamen have their old and new rituals, especially fishermen who have all types of questionable practices. Just ask any sportfishing charter boat's galley chef for a banana and wait to see his or her response.

Sailors constantly confront danger on the high seas, and their superstitions lean toward protection and safety. Fishermen have rituals for a good catch and returning home safely, and many superstitions are passed down from generation to generation.

Interesting that these seafaring sailors try to influence things that are out of their power, such as where the fish are, weather conditions and the ocean's swells. As strange as some of the superstitions are, people always seem to seek some sort of mystical connection to the environment and objects around them.

Scare of the week is that it seems that the Halloween frights came a week early with Newport Beach's City Council further shoving marine businesses and recreational boating out of Newport Harbor. The council voted 4 to 3 Tuesday to arbitrarily raise rates on commercial marinas under the guise of fare market value rates for tideland fees. This will simply translate into higher marina slip rates driving higher vacancy levels, resulting in less rental income for the marina operator who will also have to pay the new tax. Maybe an economics 101 class would help?

What surprised me is that the swing vote in favor of the tax was cast by Rush Hill, who represents the lack luster Mariners Mile along West Coast Highway where marine businesses have been disappearing for years with other businesses struggling, and where one of the harbor's shipyards is trying to survive.

Paulette Pappas, owner of Sea Spray Boat Yard and in her family since 1946, has expressed her fear of losing her business with excessive fees and taxes imposed by the city.

"This is a family-operated business," she said. "We have been the stewards of our particular corner of the harbor for more than 66 years. Our family has maintained and upgraded our facility without any assistance from the city the entire 66-plus years."

The "proposed fee increase will be catastrophic to my ability to remain in the marine industry," she continues. "I am absolutely sick at heart over the possibility of losing something that is quite dear to me."

That is just so disheartening.

Sadly, the council's decision affects lives, the real lives of those who live, work and play in our community. Many, like Pappas, have helped shape and mold Newport Harbor into one of the finest harbors in the world. Keep in mind that this was primarily accomplished by businesses and citizens without the city's involvement throughout the decades.

Scott Schock, son of W.D. "Bill" Schock, and his wife, Marie, own and operate Schock Boats on the Rhine Channel in Cannery Village. The Schocks are a fixture in the harbor and operate a business catering to the families and the recreational boaters.

Here is an excerpt from correspondence that Scott sent to the council prior to the meeting, "Before levying new taxes, the city should use some of its $100-million surplus for harbor maintenance and improvements. Levying a new 20% tax on commercial marina operators in a recession will hurt small businesses. Before taxing commercial marina operators, the city needs to slow down and work with small business in these difficult times."

His closing sentence sums up this whole issue, "Harbor improvements are the responsibility of the entire community, not just boaters and marine-serving businesses."

As I have asked before, what will the marine businesses and waterfront residents receive in return for paying this tax, oops fee? The answer is nothing.

Where does the current tideland revenue go? We need to see an accounting of how the commercial marinas — and the boaters for that matter — benefit. The marina operator already pays high property taxes due to the value of the expensive waterfront property, insurance, parking, permits, docks, infrastructure, worker's compensation insurance, dredging, eel grass mitigation, sea walls, etc.

The remaining marine businesses on the harbor need to look out as their tax is coming in the near future, and waterfront residents with docks better get ready to break out their checkbooks as well.

I will close with an email from Dana Agamalian, "Maybe they need the extra money to pay for the obscene new City Hall they just built. A testimonial of misguided pride and inflated egos rushing carelessly through a project without regard to budget and appropriateness."


And don't forget: Tune in to the No. 1 boating radio talk show in the nation, Capt. Mike Whitehead's "Boathouse Radio Show," broadcasting coast-to-coast on the CRN Digital Talk Radio syndicated network at noon Saturdays and replayed at 10 a.m. Sundays.

Safe Voyages!

MIKE WHITEHEAD is a boating columnist for the Daily Pilot. Send marine-related thoughts and story suggestions to or go to

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