Advisory board review requested for Dana Point Harbor Patrol funding

Boating advocacy group seeks examination of county line item and potential effect on revitalization plans.

Editor’s Note: The print version of this article incorrectly stated a March 27 letter was sent to Supervisor Lisa Bartlett from the Dana Point Boaters Association. The letter was actually sent from the Dana Point Harbor Advisory Board. We apologize for the error.

DANA POINT — A boating advocacy group has asked an Orange County committee to review what it calls “the single biggest routine expense” for Dana Point Harbor, according to a letter sent to county officials in mid-March.

Dana Point Boaters Association (DPBA) forwarded a letter to members of the Dana Point Harbor Advisory Board on March 17, specifically requesting the committee consider an agenda item on funding for services provided by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

The advisory group sent a second letter to Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, echoing the first letter’s request; the letter was sent March 27, one day after members of the Dana Point Harbor Advisory Board met.

“This is not a judgment on Sheriff’s Department personnel or the performance of their mission,” DPBA President James Lenthall said in an email to The Log about both letters. “Rather, this is an examination of the ongoing impact on our harbor economy from this enormous and escalating expense.”

The review would specifically look into the funding and its potential effect on Tidelands Fund 108.

DPBA Secretary Alan Johnson, in his March 17 letter to the advisory board’s leadership, stated harbor patrol operations is expected to ding Fund 108 for $4.5 million in 2018, making it “by far the single biggest routine expense” of the tidelands account.

Johnson added the line item expense would increase “dramatically” during the next few years. A blog post on the Dana Point Harbor Advisory Board’s website stated the budget line item expense is “projected to increase to nearly $8 million in the coming years.”

“This equates to approximately 30 percent of the O.C. Sheriff’s Department’s costs for Orange County coastal patrol operations,” the blog post continued. “Is Dana Point Harbor paying our proportional share for the services provided to our harbor?”

A planned multimillion-dollar renovation of Dana Point Harbor adds to the advocacy group’s concerns about operational expenses.

“The Dana Point Harbor budget exists independently without subsidy from the Orange County general fund or any other external funding source. At a time when we are about to exert enormous stress on our harbor economy with the $300 million harbor renovation project, we are seeking relief wherever possible to protect the viability of our harbor economy and ensure continued affordable public coastal access,” Lenthall told The Log.

DPBA’s March 17 letter was shared in its recent newsletter blast and made clear the request for review was not intended to raise alarms but instead spark a discussion on possible solutions.

“To be clear, we are not raising alarm over the quality of the O.C. Sheriff’s Department harbor patrol personnel or the overall objective of their coastal law enforcement mission. We support both,” the newsletter stated. “Instead, the exorbitant and escalating financial burden to Dana Point Harbor is disproportionate and unsustainable, and we believe there may be more appropriate means of funding, and perhaps alternative models to achieve harbor security.”

Inquiring about the Sheriff’s Department operations at Dana Point Harbor could provide insight on how potentially increasing expenses would affect local boaters, according to DPBA.

“We desire to more fully understand how the projected escalating expenses from Fund 108 for OCSD harbor patrol services will affect the Harbor Revitalization Plan, the future impact on slip rates and tenant lease fees, and the affordability of continued public coastal access,” the March 27 letter from DPBA  Dana Point Harbor Advisory Board to Bartlett stated.

DPBA representatives also made it clear they are seeking a review of harbor patrol funding to ensure the planned revitalization of Dana Point Harbor won’t put an undue burden on Tidelands Fund 108.

“As the County of Orange prepares to enter into a contract with a private partner to assume the Harbor Revitalization Plan and operate our harbor for the next 66 years, we are concerned that harbor patrol funding will put the continued financial viability of Fund 108 at risk,” Johnson stated in the DPBA letter. “As the developer seeks to recover their planned investment of as much as $300 million to rebuild our harbor, and reasonably expects to turn a profit doing so, we believe the exorbitant and escalating costs of harbor patrol will necessitate seeking significant increases to boater and commercial tenant fees, or will undermine Fund 108’s ability to accumulate reserves for future capital and operational needs.”

The item – which DPBA labeled as “Dana Point Harbor Patrol funding and operations and their projected impact on the future financial viability of Tidelands Fund 108, in particular in the context of the Dana Point Harbor Revitalization Plan” – was discussed at the March 26 advisory board meeting.

Dana Point Harbor Advisory Board will meet again on April 23 at 5 p.m.

Parimal M. Rohit photo


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