DANA POINT — Orange County officials released a Request for Proposals (RFP) on Oct. 29 for a vendor to manage and operate O.C. Sailing and Events Center at Dana Point Harbor. The RFP was highly anticipated in recent weeks as local community members reached out to county leaders and spoke to the press expressing concern about the center’s future.
A public notice issued by Orange County officials said the new vendor would be expected to offer programs similar to what currently exists at O.C. Sailing and Events Center, such as boating activities, marine safety education camps and sail programs.
“The responsibility will include all operations and maintenance for the continued use of the center in generally the same form and fashion, programs offered will consist of water based programs for youth and adults, and offered to the general public,” county officials stated in the notice of RFP.
Whoever is selected to manage and operate the center at the western edge of Dana Point Harbor would, according to county officials, be expected to offer “summer youth camp, sailing lessons, human powered craft (HPC) instruction and could include HPC equipment rental, room rentals and other programs and uses deemed appropriate for the general public and user groups.”
Food and beverage concessions could also be added to the center’s operations.
Some community members associated with the sailing center were worried how the RFP process would play out and if the county would select a vendor who would commercialize a space where public access has been the norm.
“We’re just concerned about the future of our program. I believe we have the largest Sea Scout ship in the nation. We want to keep low cost community access,” Kevin Mullen told The Log before the RFP was published.
Mullen has been affiliated with Mariners 936 Sea Scouts, a co-ed boating program for youth aged 14 to 18 and based out of O.C. Sailing and Events Center. The Sea Scouts program reportedly has about 100 youth members participating right now. Each participating member can earn money toward dues and trips. Practice sessions for sailing are held regularly. No one is turned away.
Mullen said he noticed some changes last month in how the sailing center was managed and worried what the future has in store.
“Everywhere else on the harbor is commercialized,” Mullen said, wondering if a new vendor would alter the sailing center to resemble the rest of the waterfront once the revitalization is complete.
A county bid for private management of the sailing center was up for discussion for almost eight years, sources connected to the sailing center told The Log. The bid for a private vendor was sought, according to sources, to help cover a financial shortfall at the sailing center.
There was concern whether a private vendor would retain the center’s existing programs. Yet the RFP did outline several operational requirements the vendor must abide by if awarded a contract. Requirements include enhancing the sailing center’s operations to benefit the public, preserve water quality, provide classes on boating safety and proper usage of vessels, and share select docks near the waterfront venue.
The new vendor must also offer nonprofit water-based education on sailing and seamanship. Courses must be offered at low cost or on a scholarship basis, according to the RFP notice.
“[The] county’s primary purpose for entering into this lease is to promote the revitalization of the harbor and to make available tenant-provided services and facilities for the benefit of the public,” the lease provision stated.
Harbor tenants are also subject to a Local Coastal Program Amendment (LCPA) approved by the California Coastal Commission instead of sections of the Dana Point Specific Plan, according to the lease contract. The shift in governing document means county officials will make decisions about use of commercial space at Dana Point Harbor.
“The LCPA provides specifically for the upgrade of existing buildings, the addition of buildings for restaurant/retail, a parking structure, a stacked boat storage facility and related upgrades and improvements,” a section of the lease contract stated. [The] county is under no obligation to [tenants] with regard to timing and completion of the improvements contemplated by the LCPA or Revitalization Plan. In some cases a mandatory reduction of square footage may be required, according to the lease contract.
“When making modifications to leasehold premises, it is the intent of [the] county to use its best efforts to accommodate the needs of commercial center tenants while acting in the best interests of the Commercial Center in entirety and with consideration of service to the public,” the lease terms continued.
James Lenthall, vice president of the Dana Point Boaters Association (DPBA), wrote in an open letter he was pleased to see the county attempt to establish some parameters for community-based programs continuing at the sailing center after a new vendor is selected.
“We know from experience that the county won’t go so far as to protect specific organizations within an RFP. It can’t,” Lenthall wrote. “But we were pleased, and somewhat surprised, by the specificity of the type of programs that must continue to be offered at the [Sailing and Events Center], with Sea Scouts actually cited as an example.”
Lenthall hoped the RFP could be amended to include language protecting nonprofits operating at the sailing center from potentially facing rent or fee increases.
“One element not included in the RFP — one which we’d hoped to see — is cost protections for the non-profits that operate out of the [Sailing and Events Center]. Some of these organizations operate on very thin margins with all volunteer staff. Any increase in their fees to use the [center] could jeopardize the survival of these groups,” Lenthall said. “We are requesting the county amend the RFP to require interested parties to provide a fee schedule for non-profit users of the [center].”
A group of Dana Point residents called Save Harbor Park launched an online petition to have the RFP withdrawn and have county officials work closely with the community groups based in the sailing center.
“The [county] refuses to include protections within this request that would prevent the private company from driving out these community focused organizations through increased rates, or misguided management practices,” the petition, found online at change.org, stated. “The refusal to include these protections threatens the continued existence of these organizations and their ability to provide these educational and recreational opportunities.”
Groups based at the sailing center, according to Save Harbor Park’s petition, are Mariners 936 Sea Scouts, Saddleback College, Westwind Sailing, Serra Sailing, Dana Hills High School and Dana Outrigger Canoe Club.
Dana Point Harbor is owned and operated by Orange County. The state granted Orange County the harbor area as part of a public lands trust in 1961. Terms of the grant, according to the Orange County Grand Jury, require county officials to ensure the harbor “remains available for public use for all purposes of commerce and navigation.”