Wu: The Taj, the dock fee and home values

Are you excited? I'm excited.

Not Christmas excited. Excited because the Newport Beach City Council and the government employees who overflow the old City Hall will be moving into the largest, most egregious example of shiny government decadence and ego Newport Beach residents will ever see in their lifetimes: the new, $130-million Taj Mahal/White Elephant/Civic Center Plaza.

A $130-million folly that was almost completely paid for with government loans through the use of COPS (Certificates of Participation), which means that we don't pay as much interest.

So the next council meeting will be held not at the old, dastardly, largely ignored and broken down part of the city on Newport Boulevard on the Balboa Peninsula.

Instead, the new council just recently elected, without any competition, will celebrate themselves on the newly renamed Civic Center Drive, in the most Fashionable part of the Irvine Co. — er — Newport Beach.

Aren't you excited?

But one cannot help but find the timing ironic. Let's back up and review. Some full-time lifeguards earn more than $200,000 a year in total compensation and can retire at 50 years old, getting their, as a former mayor once said, "well-deserved" pensions of more than $100,000 a year.

These bloated salaries and pensions make up more than 70% of Tidelands Management Budget, which pays for all harbor- and beach-related expenses.

Although millions of folks get to enjoy the harbor and beaches, three groups of people have been asked to pay their "fair share." They would be the mooring owners (already hit with a tidy increase) and the commercial dock owners (who have also seen their fees increase exponentially), and now the residential dock owners.

Some people are fortunate enough to live on the Newport Harbor and have a dock. The docks, which are built, maintained and paid for by the private homeowners, happen to jut out over the water, which the state of California owns and the city of Newport Beach manages.

Up until now, these free-loaders have been paying the city for a $100-a-year permit. But now the city, in the spirit of the fair market, wants to raise that rent to 52 cents a square foot, which in some cases would relate to a 3,000% increase.

Some are calling it a "tax," while others are calling it a "fee" and "rent." To me, it doesn't matter; it's a bit excessive either way and, considering the aforementioned circumstances, a bit opportunistic.

And what's one of the first things the Magnificent Seven will vote on in their new shiny palace, other than giving each other kudos and pats on the back for such a beautiful shiny new home?

Yup, raising the rent on 800 to 1,200 residential dock owners. After borrowing — and spending — almost $150 million, while giving a couple of the top city administrators raises, the council is going to reach into the pockets of the wealthy homeowners and make them pay more.

To combat this, the stopthedocktax.com folks announced they think it's a tax and are going to boycott the Christmas Boat Parade, and actually made the council members take pause.

So what can I add? Well, one interesting aspect that hasn't been discussed is whether this dock rent/tax will lower the values of the homes affected. Why would increasing the rent of a private residential dock decrease the value of one's home?

I heard months ago that Councilman Ed Selich was going to have to recuse himself from the residential dock rent/tax discussion because he has a dock. However, his dock is over privately owned waters, rather than waters owned by the state or managed by the city, so why would this affect him?

"I have been advised by the city attorney that I have a potential conflict of interest in voting on the residential dock rental fee due to the fact that I own a residential dock," he said. "Even though my dock may be exempt from the rental fee, I would still have a potential conflict as my vote may affect the value of my property."

You mean increasing the dock rents by up to 3,000% would decrease the value of Selich's home?


Selich can't vote on it because the Newport Beach city attorney thinks that imposing such an increase to residential docks would decrease the value of 800 to 1,200 Newport Beach homes and increase the value of homes owned by people like Selich with private docks.

And would their home values decrease because of a Democratic president, the fiscal cliff or the Democratic supermajority in the California Legislature? Nope. It's because of the republican (small r) Newport Beach City Council.

JACK WU is an accountant who lives in Newport Beach and practices in Costa Mesa. He is a longtime Republican Party loyalist and a volunteer campaign treasurer for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa). His column runs Sundays on the Daily Pilot Forum page. He can be reached at jack@wubell.com.

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