Commentary: Imagine a 5-story motorhome in front of your house

The Aug. 14 decision by the Newport Beach Harbor Commission to allow two mega-yachts — 214 feet and 130 feet, respectively — to moor in the turning basin at the west end of Lido Island is a mistake that we hope will be corrected without a formal appeal ("2 large yachts get OK to anchor," Aug. 16).

While we are not sure whether the commission's approach to the project from the prospective of promoting Newport Harbor as a destination for larger vessels is even in keeping with the purpose of the harbor code, the bigger issue is that the decision appears to fly in the face of harbor regulations, ordinances and tidelands trust requirements.

We have nothing but respect for the commission and appreciate its contribution, but there seems to be a complete disregard for the impact on residents, the surrounding neighborhood and other users of the bay. We are also bothered by the fact that all three members of the subcommittee that recommended approval to the commission apparently have personal relationships with the ships' owners or crew members.

We are concerned that the approval was given to the ships' owners without an application or permit. This seems improper in itself, but the installation of a mooring buoy is being allowed, and this requires a permit per Section 17.25 of the Newport Beach Harbor Code.

Another concern is that the turning basin at the west end of Lido Island is not an approved anchorage as established by the federal government or by the City Council as required by Section 17.05.070 of the harbor code. Section 17.25 prohibits anchoring anywhere except within designated areas.

The Harbor Commission does not have the authority to establish an anchorage — only to recommend it to the council — and to our knowledge this was not done. The 72-hour stay limit per the harbor code is also being ignored. While Harbor Resources has the authority to extend the limit, what particular circumstances would suggest that these ships deserve an extension of time? And why do these luxury vessels deserve more consideration than the average visiting boat?

What justifies residents, businesses and users of the bay having their views spoiled and access limited for two months by a vessel wider than most lots on the bay and longer and taller than any of the homes or buildings in the surrounding area?

I mentioned in the meeting Wednesday night that having a ship like Invictus anchored in the turning basin in front of our house is no different than having a 5-story motor home parked on the street. My point was that the city does not permit people to park 100-foot to 200-foot RVs on the street because of the negative affect on the homes and neighborhoods.

Why is the Invictus any different just because it's on the water? Furthermore, collateral noise means our privacy is gone. The lighting on a mega-yacht that size will be so bright, we'll probably be forced to keep our shades drawn at night, which is not right for 72 hours let alone two months.

In many ways, having one or more mega-yachts anchored in the turning basin affects the peaceful enjoyment of a homeowner's property, public areas and views more adversely than the commercial operations in the harbor, especially over an extended period of time.

In adopting Section 17.10, which details the purposes and permits for marine activities, the council intended that the health, safety and welfare of those who use, enjoy and own property near Newport Harbor are not adversely affected by commercial activities conducted on those waters, and that suitability and capability of the Newport Harbor infrastructure to accommodate future permit-dependent operations are adequately considered in permit application processes.

Granted the Invictus and Marama are not commercial vessels, but in the absence of any other provision in the code, this is a good guideline.

Finally, we are concerned that the affect on the bay and its other users was not given enough consideration, the draft is too deep on the larger of the two vessels with too little margin in the depth of the channel or the turning basin, and the fees both vessels will pay are inappropriately low.

It is clear to us that this decision has not been thoroughly vetted. The commission's assurances that this will not set a precedent for other vessels and that this is just a test is not reassuring.

A test for what?

Allowing two mega-yachts to anchor in the turning basin will lead the way for more big boats to anchor there before the harbor is completely prepared for them, changing the feel of the community and stepping further on property owners' and harbor users' rights.

While it may be cool to have these vessels in the harbor, and lots of people will enjoy gawking at them, the city needs to take a step back and do a better job of evaluating the objective, the issues and the expected results before executing a quick decision like this.

If at an appropriate time in the future it is determined that mega-yachts are compatible with the harbor code purpose and that they have a place in Newport Harbor, they should be on a fixed pier or dock with appropriate safe access in a location where they won't bother homeowners, businesses or other users of the bay — not in a turning basin in the middle of one of the last open spaces in the harbor.

JUDY COLE lives int he Lido Village area of Newport Beach.

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