Commentary: Newport has duty to charge fair market rates

The City Council and staff have been engaged for the past two years in a process to establish fair market rents for boat berthing space in the Newport Harbor. This includes moorings, slips in the city-owned marina, commercial marinas and lastly, residential docks. In each case, the city researched the issue, made an initial proposal, engaged in public outreach over the course of several meetings, and substantially modified its final decision following public input.

The simple requirement at the heart of this issue is that when private citizens use publicly owned property for their individual purposes, they should pay a fair market price for the use of that asset. The resulting charge is rent, pure and simple. It is not a tax or a fee. It is not a money grab. Rather, it is a case of the city acting as a prudent landlord in its fiduciary duty to properly manage the tidelands on behalf of the state and all of the taxpayers of the city. It is required by the California state constitution, state law and city ordinance. Because this is a politically charged issue, the city has for many years shied away from addressing it, and now the size of the increases in rent seem inordinately large for that reason alone.

Residential dock owners are not being treated any differently in this process than other harbor users. Their docks extend over publicly owned water and the land underneath, and they too should pay a fair market charge for that. Understandably, and rightfully, they have disputed many aspects of the original proposal, raising a number of good and valid suggestions for change. As a result, the council has made a number of substantial and appropriate changes in their favor, including phasing the increases in all the way to 2017. More changes will be made before a final decision is made. This is the essence of the political process.

Despite this, the “Stop the Dock Tax” group has seen fit to call for a general boycott of the Christmas Boat Parade in protest. I sincerely hope that individual property owners choose not to participate in it. The political process is working as it should without such an action.

Sensationalized threats such as the boycott won’t affect the outcome — in fact, it may harden more opposition as the general public better understands that dock owners today pay about $8 a month to use public recreational waters. The boycott primarily punishes all sorts of businesses, residents and their guests, as well as visitors to the city, by damaging the success of the event. If it can’t affect the outcome, the boycott then becomes just vengeful and vindictive in nature, serving no constructive purpose.

Let’s continue to work out this issue through constructive and rational dialogue. No good purpose is served by a boycott.

MIKE HENN is a Newport Beach city councilman. He represents the 1st District.