Jetpacks banned from Newport Beach harbor

City Council formally outlaws water sport activity shortly after departure of Jetpack America.

NEWPORT BEACH — The relationship between jetpack enthusiasts and Newport Beach City Hall was tenuous and turbulent, to say the least. Calmer waters seem to have prevailed – for now – for the group of waterfront residents who were anything but thrilled to see groups of thrill seekers trying to fly above water in Newport Harbor’s Turning Basin.

Newport Beach’s City Council officially – and quietly – banned jetpack operations in the local harbor. The decision ends a multiyear battle between outdoor sports lovers, city leaders and waterfront residents.

Council members approved the ban at their Feb. 14 meeting without discussion or deliberation – a vote later challenged by a local community activist. However the Newport Beach Harbor Commission, during its Feb. 8 meeting, reiterated its desire to have all jetpack activity banned from the city.

“We [initially] recommended complete prohibition of water propelled vessels above the surface of the water, [but] the council elected to prohibit privately-operated craft and allow one commercial operator,” Harbor Commissioner William Kenney said Feb. 8, recapping the commission’s early opposition to jetpack operations. “The goal would now be to go back and put on the absolute prohibition.”

Jetpack operations in Newport Harbor met with controversy ever since the activity was introduced within city limits. A contingency of waterfront residents opposed any jetpack activity within the harbor, claiming it was loud and unsafe. Opponents were constantly vocal at Newport Beach’s Harbor Commission and City Council meetings. Supporters of the activity said jetpack operations were actually safe and would draw tourists to Newport Beach.

Opponents seemed to have momentum in early 2015 when the local Harbor Commission, in response to multiple jetpack operators offering their respective services in the harbor, recommended prohibiting all private operations of the water propelled vessel.

However the City Council overruled the Harbor Commission in June 2015 and allowed one operator – Jetpack America – to continue offering its commercial services in the harbor.

Jetpack America was awarded a one-year permit to operate jetpacks at the harbor’s Turning Basin; the permit expired in November 2016. The company left Newport Beach after the permit expired and was not renewed.

“Now that there are no commercial or private recreational operators in Newport Harbor, staff and the Harbor Commission recommend prohibiting all water-propelled vessels that operate above the water surface in Newport Harbor,” city staff stated in a report to council members.

The council’s decision to ban all jetpack operations from Newport Harbor was not consistent with free market principles, according to one resident.

“The real question before you is whether or not you believe in the free market. The previous vendor had to leave the city because it was being taxed an absolutely crippling amount of money – that was abhorrent,” resident and former City Council candidate Mike Glenn told council members in an email. “Will you continue the policies of the previous council in an attempt to take the free market systems that have been proven to work, and instead allow government officials to only allow the services that a small few people do not complain about?

“This is a great test of your dedication to the principals of small government,” he continued.

Longtime waterfront residents Don and Judy Cole, in a joint email to the City Council, reiterated their collective opposition to jetpack operations in Newport Beach. The Coles claimed jetpack operations were not compatible with other Newport Harbor’s other uses.

“The jetpack business was not successful in our harbor – not because their permit was overly restrictive or that they were overregulated. The fact is that water propelled vessels above the surface of the water may be suitable in other areas, but they are not compatible within our particular harbor,” Don and Judy Cole stated in their joint email. “Newport Beach isn’t Las Vegas, Miami or Waikiki – and hopefully will never be.”

City Manager Dave Kiff said the council initially hoped jetpack operations could work as a controlled activity within Newport Harbor, but circumstances have since changed.

“The previous concept was that water propelled vessels were OK, but only ‘one vendor at a time,’” Kiff said in an email to council members. “This action would amend the [city] code to say any uses like that would not be allowed, thinking that uses like the jetpack were a bit on the noisy side and didn’t work as well with boats and hand-launch vessels in our relatively small and narrow harbor spaces.”

Council members supported the ban by a 5-1 vote, with Mayor Kevin Muldoon voting against the ban proposal and Mayor Pro Tem Duffy Duffield recusing himself. The Feb. 14 vote rescinds the City Council’s June 2015 decision to allow one permitted commercial jetpack operator.

The council vote was challenged a few days later. Glenn, according to news reports, filed a complaint against Council member and former harbor commissioner Brad Avery. The complaint reportedly alleges Avery had conflict of interest and therefore the vote should not be allowed.

Glenn explained the allegation on a blog he manages.

“When Avery ran for office, he put down his main occupation as the job he has working as the director for [Orange Coast College’s] marine programs,” Glenn wrote on his Save Newport blog. “Out of this area, he runs sailing classes, sends people out on sailing boats, and also runs an organization on the side, which sells boats.  Finally, he has been the head honcho of a prestigious yacht club right here in Newport Beach.

“Note that none of this involves jetpacks – only ‘traditional’ boats and boating – two water uses which compete for the same space, and only one of which Avery gets paid to operate.  So what were the jetpacks ‘incompatible’ with?  Could it be the same types of business that Avery makes income from?” Avery continued.

Jetpack America is still operating in San Diego and Las Vegas.

(Nina K. Jussila photo)

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2 thoughts on “Jetpacks banned from Newport Beach harbor

  • March 2, 2017 at 12:42 pm

    Thank God! Now, for some logical controls on SUPs, Kayaks, etc., along with those small sailboats whose operators think they own the harbors and believe they have absolute right-a-way and no responsibility for causing an accident. Most are apparently operated by clueless renters. Many times the SUPs line up side-by-side and are strung out across the whole harbor, interfering with navigation. The small sailboats rip back and forth from one side of the harbor to the other with total disregard for powered traffic. It isn’t easy to watch every direction for these fast moving sailboats, nor SUPs that come out of nowhere. Fortunately, the courts have determined that “common sense” has to apply, and these human and wind powered craft operators are now being held responsible for their negligent actions. Now, lets hold the rental companies equally responsible.

  • March 5, 2017 at 6:32 pm

    Wayne, while I agree with your premise that the sailboats can be a problem, they do have the right of way.



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