A State of Transition: Newport Beach Forges New Harbor Department

Administrative body will assist with customer service needs, envision budget changes and focus on code enforcement.

NEWPORT BEACH — The city of Newport Beach, steadily considered a premier boating destination, has made strides, in the last year, to improve services, amenities and educational information available to recreational boaters, residents and tourists. A model was also introduced for a freshly conceived Harbor Department, which also happens to be “new to the world,” according to several city officials.

“A lot has happened/is happening with harbor operations over the past year,” Tara Finnigan, Deputy City Manager, said in an email to The Log. “A lot of thought and effort went into the department structure that the city council approved on June 12.”

In addition to approving the department structure, council members approved the new budget of $1.1 million – up around $200,000 from last year’s budget – to be included in the 2018-19 fiscal year at the June 26 meeting.

The Harbor Department will essentially shift around a few employees and allow for more hours for part-time employees, such as city lifeguards, to see to harbor-related needs after the typical hours of operations. The increase will rise about 3,000 hours annually, from 16,000 to 19,000.

David Kiff, Newport Beach’s city manager, gave a presentation at the June 26 meeting to further delve into how the harbor department would differ from the harbor operations division. Kiff, coincidentally, will be retiring from his position, Aug. 31.

Introducing the Harbor Department

The larger picture of a separate harbor department, according to city staff, was also to boost customer service for Newport Beach’s recreational boaters.

“It began just over a year ago (spring 2017), when the city began to develop a plan for enhancing customer service in Newport Harbor with the goal of better integrating harbor services for visiting boaters and providing better value for our mooring permit holders,” Finnigan said. “The vision: Develop a ‘one-stop shop’ for boaters by combining mooring and rental services with the services offered at the City’s Marina Park.

“Once the plan began to take shape, the city retained Dennis Durgan to serve as the first harbormaster, retained part-time staff members to assist, and shortly thereafter, the first phase took effect on July 1, 2017 when the city assumed responsibility for managing the more than 1,220 public moorings in Newport Harbor,” Finnigan continued. “The moorings had been previously managed by the Orange County Sheriff’s Dept. Harbor Patrol. The city now handles the administrative and on-water mooring management functions including mooring permit issuance and transfers, vacant rental assignments, billing assistance, insurance documentation and more.”

Durgan was praised by several council members and city staff for his part as the harbor’s first official harbormaster, some even citing he did not take one weekend off throughout his employment.

“Dennis is a renowned yachtsman (he has sailed all over the world) and businessman,” Finnigan said. “As the city’s harbormaster, he oversees the day-to-day harbor operations, harbor service staff and Marina Park’s marina operations.”

Durgan has an extensive and impressive resume on the water and has been a resident of Newport Beach for many years.

“Having moved to Newport Beach back in 1961 and attending all local schools before going off to college, I have grown up on the harbor and have been enjoying it for about 57 years now,” Durgan said. “I have seen quite a change in how the harbor is used and enjoyed over this period of time! I have enjoyed much success in yachting around the globe with hundreds of thousands of miles visiting many bays and harbors.”

An accomplished sailor, Durgan has been on winning teams of some of the most prestigious competitive sailing races in the world such as America’s Cup, Congressional Cup, Douglass Cup, Transpac, Sardinia Cup and Lipton Cup as well as a number of local races in North America.

Durgan continued: “I have an extensive cruising resume in all parts of the globe, which is very valuable in that I have seen how many different harbors have been run around the world.”

With Durgan’s leadership and a team of capable individuals in harbor operations, the last year of implementing changes has had a positive effect, according to Finnigan.

“That [harbor operations] has been going well and over the past 11 months, Dennis and his team have been helping to identify other areas/opportunities where the City can provide service to harbor users,” Finnigan said. “The City Council has been pleased with the first year of changes and asked us to draft a longer-term plan for the future of our harbor operations.”

Harbor Division vs. Harbor Department: Impending Changes

In terms of the difference between the division and the department, harbor operations previously functioned under another department. After the first year of the trial run, City Council saw the value in creating a stand-alone department for harbor operations.

Newport Beach Harbor currently operates Harbor Operations Division under direction of the city in cooperation with the Harbor Operations Division, which in turn works with the local Harbor Patrol, U.S. Coast Guard-Long Beach, and other agencies to assure those enjoying the waters have access to emergency respondents and so forth. Title 17, the Harbor Code, is the regulations and operational manual regarding the harbor.

In terms of employment, not much will change aside from Durgan going full-time as the harbormaster. Other positions will remain part-time.

A chart presented to the council by Kiff showed how the harbor division positions would break down. Dennis Durgan would become both the Harbor Director/Harbormaster in a full-time position and Chris Miller, who has been the Harbor Operations Manager, will have some of his responsibilities shifted. Matt Cosylion, Code Enforcement Supervisor, would be transferred to the department for a year to focus on one of the primary goals of training staff on enforcing city codes.

Kiff also presented that the Harbor Department’s tasks have been outlined for the next few years (see sidebar).

Though there would be no new headcount, according to Kiff, there would be a lot more hours as previously mentioned.

Next Steps

The Harbor Department, according to Kiff, would be on a three-year business plan.

In the immediate future, Kiff mentioned making an amendment to Title 2.12 of the Newport Beach Municipal Code to reflect the creation of the harbor department and also provide job descriptions and salary ranges for the positions under the department. Afterward, priority would be put on recruiting for those positions (mind most of the managerial-type positions are already filled with current employees) and amend Title 17 to highlight the new roles and responsibilities of the Harbormaster/Harbor Director.

“This year, there will be an increased focus on code enforcement,” Finnigan said. “The city’s current code enforcement supervisor will actually be ‘on loan’ to the new Harbor Department for a full year to help implement some changes and to train the Harbor Department staff.”

Durgan has put an emphasis on friendly customer service as well as educating the public and he hopes to continue this in the years ahead.

“All along, I have worked very long and hard to keep all of our team and equipment looking sharp and with the right attitude of being courteous, educational and helpful to all that enjoy the harbor,” Durgan said.

He’s also optimistic about the new policies that are being developed and how this has reflected in outdoor recreationists experience in Newport Beach Harbor.

“As with any new program, we have to develop policies and procedures and identify the issues and concerns of our harbor users,” Durgan said. “We have certainly learned a lot with regard to helping both residents and visiting mariners by educating the public on safety and managing all the friendly activities which take place out on the harbor.

“We have been successful in collecting tons of floating trash, slowing vessels down as to create a smaller wake, educating SUP boarders on the necessity to have a personal flotation device on their board, along with helping visiting mariners to get on and off their rental moorings & slips,” Durgan continued.

Harbor Department Reception

The development of Newport Beach’s Harbor Department has been seen as a good thing and council members and a few residents spoke favorably of the concept.

“The council seemed pleased with the new structure as it allows for flexibility and did not increase the city’s overall employee count,” Finnigan said. “It is a good ‘year-two’ type of operation, subject to changes as year three approaches.”

Council member Kevin Muldoon stated he was not as optimistic, though he did not go into much detail as to why during the meeting. However, in an email to The Log, he appeared to have changed his position. Muldoon said, “I am feeling more optimistic about the Harbor Department since our staff has been able to find ways to achieve increased services to our users without raising costs.”

A main selling point of the new department was that taxpayer’s dollars allegedly will not be increased due to the functions of the new department.

Council member Brad Avery added while the budget was “less than some of us would like” that the framework would be set up to learn and grow into the “right size of Harbor Department.”

Avery, and other staff members, also gave credit to Durgan for leading the way in developing the harbor master and advising officials with his expertise. Overall, Avery felt this was a way to grow the harbor and its revenue as well as coordinating with OC Sheriff’s Department.

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