Commentary: Arguments against dock fees not sound

As many residents are aware, I served on both the council ad hoc committee that reviewed tidelands rents for commercial users and the council working group that reviewed tidelands' rents for residential piers. I have been intimately involved for more than two years in the whole range of issues and considerations that impact these reviews and voted in favor of the final recommendations adopted by council.

Recently, Councilwoman Leslie Daigle (the lone dissenting vote on the recommendations) issued a commentary to the Daily Pilot explaining the reasoning for her vote ("Commentary: Why I voted alone against the dock tax (Dec. 21). While I respect Daigle as a fellow council member, her commentary must be rebutted as I believe she made a number of questionable allegations and statements and resurfaced canards that are untrue and inaccurate.

They include:

It's a tax. It's not. It's rent, pure and simple. When private individuals make exclusive private use of public recreational waters, they need to pay fair market rent for it. If they don't want to rent public waters, they can choose not to use them and avoid the charge.

Prudent management of existing tidelands revenues. Daigle implies that if we simply manage our existing revenues better, there would be no need to raise residential pier rents. It is abundantly clear that the long-term needs of maintaining and improving our harbor far outstrip the available revenue, even including the recently increased rents. In any event, we are increasing rents because doing so is mandated by law, not because of need.

Increased bureaucracy. Daigle knows that city employment is down from 833 full-time positions in 2009 to about 750 today and likely getting smaller. To promote the "all governments grow" dogma is to ignore the hard work that Daigle and the rest of us have done to make government smaller and smarter in Newport Beach. The city manager has assured us that the new rental amounts can be calculated and billed with current resources, using some of the same harbor resources staff that has ably managed two huge dredging projects nearing completion. It is these personnel, among others, that Daigle wishes did not have their salaries funded by tidelands revenue.

Dock confiscation. This is an absurd allegation. How many homes has the city confiscated for missed water bills? How many cars seized for forgotten parking tickets?

The State Lands Commission, SB 152 and residential piers. Daigle again mischaracterizes this issue. In 1999, the city attorney stated that the city can charge rent for residential piers — the council was asked to consider doing so. The state attorney general in 1976 said that not charging rent for a private pier over recreational waters was likely a gift of public funds prohibited by the California Constitution. In the council meetings Daigle and I attended, city staff very clearly said that three things mandate the fair market rental charges for tidelands uses — the California Constitution, the Beacon Bay Bill (which is not SB 152) and the Public Trust Doctrine. At no time was it stated that the passage of SB 152 was the causal factor in the city's implementation of increased rents for residential piers.

Double taxation. Daigle ignores the fact that many residential properties are not valued on the assessor's rolls at their market value. Proposition 13 — a great protection for all — can have one home "valued" on tax rolls at $300,000 (with a dock) sitting next to one valued at its recent sale price of $3 million without a dock. Beyond these obvious inequities, every other upland property owner that uses tidelands is a property taxpayer. So is every other rent-paying user of public property on which they have built improvements (prime example: The Balboa Bay Club pays millions of dollars of tidelands rent every year). Again the issue is, residential piers gain exclusive use of public property and should pay fair value for that right.

SB 573. Daigle's statements regarding the meaning of SB 573 are misleading. You can read the bill for yourself and see that the bill did not direct 80% of all tidelands revenues to capital projects. It allows the city to choose how to allocate tidelands funds between capital and maintenance, based on local needs. The use of tidelands revenue for salaries of employees that are necessary to manage the tidelands is a perfectly permissible and necessary thing.

Trips to Washington, D.C. Daigle neglects to give herself credit here. Despite her dogmatic protestations against the growth and reach of government, on one of her trips to Washington, D.C., she lobbied hard to secure funding from President Obama's 2009 stimulus funds for the city's benefit. So, apparently not all government spending is bad, just some of it.

I respect Daigle's council role, and on many issues I agree with her conclusions. But this time, with so many comments not grounded in facts regarding an already highly charged issue, I think her commentary has not served the community well.

MIKE HENN is a Newport Beach city councilman.

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