Byline: Ambrosia Brody
OCEANSIDE — The Oceanside City Council voted April 3 to direct the city staff to stop looking at plans for outsourcing harbor maintenance and operations to a private company. The decision followed a recommendation from the Oceanside Harbors and Beaches Advisory Committee, which determined that that long-term risks associated with losing control of the harbor are too great and potential cost savings are minimal.
In a 3-2 vote, with council members Gary Felien and Jerome Kern casting the dissenting votes, the city council rejected handing operation of the harbor over to a private company specializing in commercial marina operations. Councilman Jack Feller said the proposal was ambiguous, and the city was not experiencing a budget deficit.
“There are so many unanswered questions for me at this time,” said Councilman Feller. “If in January (2014) I see that we are at a $1.7 million or $2 million deficit, then I am going to be first in line to bring some these outsourcing issues back.”
Councilman Felien disagreed. “I think this is the direction we need to go,” he said. “Our obligation is to plan for the future. We would be saving roughly $250,000 a year. It is not a super-huge amount, but why would we turn it away?”
“If we have a problem now, I want to fix it now: That’s what we were elected to do, not kick it down the road,” Councilman Kern said. “If we do not get a handle on this and are shortsighted at the end of the day, this will all come crashing down on us, as a city.”
The Oceanside Harbors and Beaches Advisory Committee recommended that the city staff stop to looking at new proposals to outsource harbor maintenance and operation to an outside agency. During a special March 21 meeting, committee members expressed sentiments similar to those of council members Esther Sanchez and Feller: the harbor is currently well maintained by city employees, and there is not enough potential savings in switching to a private company.
Oceanside boaters, residents and marina slip tenants who have been following the city’s outsourcing attempts voiced their concerns about possible loss of control of the harbor, and that private operation would take away jobs from locals.
David Albert, a resident and boater who has been in the harbor for 20 years, questioned why more discussion was required on the subject.
“This has been extensively vetted,” Albert said. “Do not outsource and take away the jobs from hard-working Oceanside locals. Don’t disregard the free work done by your citizens to vote cease and desist (on outsourcing plans).”
Slip tenant Bill Roche asked the council to not “put a layer” between the public and city officials by installing a private company to handle harbor operations. “Let us work with you. Let us be your team. Let’s work together and make this a better harbor,” he said. “Don’t disenfranchise us by putting a layer in the middle.”
City officials looked to outsource municipal harbor operations to a private marina operator in 2012 to save money. Harbor and Beaches director Frank Quan sent out a request for proposals on Aug. 28, 2012, to determine whether there would be a cost savings to the city if the municipally run harbor’s marina operations were outsourced.
Oceanside staff determined California Yacht Marinas of Torrance was the highest scoring firm, which could save the city 2.5 percent in harbor operations. The company’s proposal showed a city savings of $148,249 in the first year, according to staff reports.
Kevin Ketchum of California Yacht Marinas, the largest marina operator in Southern California, overseeing more than 2,100 slips in six marinas in three counties, said the majority of vendors and contracted staff would be from the Oceanside community.
Under the outsourcing proposal, a private company would have been required to manage and maintain the existing boat slips, eight boater service buildings, public restrooms, parking lots and a portion of the landscaping in the harbor. These services are currently performed by city staff members consisting of one manager, one supervisor and 14 employees — including an accounting technician, nine maintenance workers and an electrician.
Boaters also expressed concerned that they could be priced out of the harbor, if an outside company took control of operations.
Under the Request for Proposals, a private operator could not raise slip rents if the vacancy rate went below 90 percent. After five years, they would have been permitted to raise slip fees to an average rate charged by non-yacht-club marinas in San Diego, Mission Bay and Dana Point.
Current slip fees in Oceanside for slips 29 feet and smaller are $13.10 per foot, with the average in other areas at $14.82. Oceanside fees for slips larger than 29 feet are $14.30 per foot, with the average in other areas at $17.51.
Oceanside harbor boaters were hit with a $3-per-foot slip increase last year, to meet increasing harbor operation costs.