Byline: Shane Scott
NEWPORT BEACH — Homeowners with private docks won a minor victory Nov. 12, when the Newport Beach City Council voted 4-3 in favor of removing a “buffer area fee” from the current pier permit fee structure.
During a study session prior to the city council meeting, Harbor Resources manager Chris Miller presented proposed changes to be applied to the current pier permit fee structure that was implemented March 1.
The former $100 per year flat fee for a private residential pier permit was increased at that time to 52.5 cents per square foot — and the move was met with complaints from many boaters about the fairness of the assessment.
“With the council’s direction, we had two (public) workshops in late August,” Miller said. “They were very well attended, and we got a lot of positive feedback.”
Suggestions from workshop attendees and feedback city staff members received were incorporated into six recommendations.
Recommended Change #1 would be in the definition of the area on which the private pier fee is assessed. The area is currently defined as the footprint of the pier, gangway and float, the interior of the U-shaped float and the buffer area — which is 10 feet around the float (except the back side). If there is less than 5 feet of usable space, there should be no fee for that area.
Recommended Change #2 would be to charge 50 percent of the current rate for the interior of the U-shaped float and the 10 foot buffer area. This option was not approved by the city council, which instead opted to keep the full fee for the U-shaped float interior and remove the entire buffer area fee.
Recommended Change #3 would be to provide a simplified permit for residential piers, remove some provisions, add language regarding the city’s intent to renew the permit, and offer a five- or 10-year permit. “Many people are trying to sell their house, and it’s daunting when they only have a one-year permit. Lenders need to feel better about the transaction that they are financing,” Miller said.
Recommended Change #4 would be to re-designate homeowner association slips — such as those of Lido Isle Community Association — from their current commercial designation to residential. Provided slips would be used by association members only. If they were to be rented to the public, commercial rates would apply.
“A few piers that would be affected are Beacon Bay and Lido Isle,” Miller said. “For the commercial pier, we charge for the entire ‘box of water,’ paying no attention to the configuration of the pier itself,” Miller said. “And the reason for that is because every commercial marina can build as many or few slips as they want to, to fill in that box of water.”
Recommended Change #5, for very small piers of 196 square feet or less, would be to decrease fees to the 2018 rate immediately. This would affect approximately 136 piers — including those in the Grand Canal, West Newport and the Peninsula.
Recommended Change #6 would allocate the use of revenue collected from rental or vacant moorings by the Orange County Sheriff’s Harbor Patrol to go toward mooring amenities — such as restrooms on shore — or other beneficial harbor programs. The empty moorings of permittees who do not own a boat and moorings that are declared vacant would be rented by Harbor Patrol staff to visiting boaters. At a rate of $15 to $16 per night, revenue of approximately $80,000 could be generated each year, Miller said.
While council members said several of the suggested changes had merit, a change in fees for buffer zones seemed to make the most impact on pier permittees.
“One of the challenges that staff had in the implementing process was where to draw the line with our 800 plus homes in the harbor, where to draw the line for a usable space and an unusable space,” Miller said. “Certain people contacted us and we worked out individual cases, but we didn’t have a going rule as we analyzed every single property. We’re recommending a 5-foot minimum. If there’s 5 or more feet, then we would charge for that area.”
However, the lines appeared confusing to council members.
“It’s hard to say that it just doesn’t look those lines are arbitrary,” said Mayor Pro Tem Rush Hill. “In one case, they’re rounded; in one case they’re not. They’re 3 feet, 8 inches; they’re 8 feet, 4 inches … it requires an absolute unique decision on each one.
“I recognize that if we go the route of not charging for the buffer, we’re reducing the (Tidelands) revenue,” Hill said. “But to me, this has never been about the revenue: It’s about meeting the state Tidelands requirements.
“I think that the administrative costs would be offset with what we’re losing in revenue,” Hill added. “You’re talking about a couple hundred thousand dollars. My position would be let’s eliminate the buffer, with the exception of that which is inside the U.”
With Councilwoman Leslie Daigle absent and Councilman Ed Selich having recused himself, Newport Beach Mayor Keith Curry was the deciding vote in removing the buffer area fee.
“When you look at the convoluted way it was explained tonight, I frankly share some of the audience’s confusion about how the permit was put together,” Mayor Curry said. “But, given that, I think we should look at the language — and I hope we can re-craft it, which would result in a further decrease in everybody’s fees.”
The issue will be brought back to the city council Nov. 26, when a draft of an ordinance detailing the fee changes will be presented.