Newport Beach City Council welcomes passenger charter discussions

Harbor Commission asks City Council for direction in examining Newport Beach Harbor’s charter guidelines.

NEWPORT BEACH — Life on the water, in some ways, is been a bit like the Wild West. Charter operators up California’s coastline, in various zip codes, have complained about a lack of enforcement on unauthorized charter operators at a city and federal level.

Newport Harbor Commissioner William Kenney opened up a topic of discussion with council members, May 8, concerning charter operations in Newport Harbor. Previously an ad hoc committee had been formed to analyze the charter industry and its benefits to the city of Newport Beach.

While plenty of charter operations leave for excursions from Newport Harbor, such as sportsfishing boats, the study was directed towards crafts that operate in Newport Harbor only, such as tour, wedding, party or event boats, not vessels that continue onto federal waters. During the presentation, Kenney stated this issue was also meant to hone in on rental vessels and would be applicable to small craft vessels and electric boats, such as the Duffy rental company.

In order to analyze the benefit of these operations to Newport Harbor, Kenney’s presentation listed the following questions to explore:

  • How many charter boats operate in the harbor? Should there be a maximum vessel size?
  • Is gray water discharge an issue? Should regulations be sought to limit or reduce waste dumping into the bay?
  • Should an additional passenger tax be imposed or is there a better structure (i.e. fee)?
  • Should enforcement be ramped up to target charter operators who have not conformed to standards, taxes, guidelines, etc.?
  • Is the Marine Activities Permit enough or could there be a better, more relevant option such as a lease, franchise agreement or operating license? Would it be worth updating the Marine Activities Permit to specifically target each industry or tailor it to the business?
  • How much do the charter businesses contribute to city revenue?
  • Have the ride-sharing platforms such as Uber and Lyft changed parking demands for charter activities?
  • Are the charter fleet operators conforming to laws/regulations such as the noise limit at 10 p.m.?
  • Does the general public have other recommendations to contribute?

Councilmember Brad Avery, who has experience with legal boat charter operations and training staff as Director of Orange Coast College’s School of Sailing and Seamanship, said that this discussion could be the starting point to get a better handle on how to serve the town. Avery also stated that in the past he felt a good job had not been done on behalf of the city working with the charter operators and that now would be a good time to bring the public into the conversation.

Avery added it is mandatory for charter operators to keep logs of cruises including passenger number and offered that more guidance could be sought by looking into the logs.

Councilmember Diane Dixon desired to see more on the fleet’s hours of operations as well as contributions by commercial vessels and enforcement that all businesses should operate with a Marine Activities Permit, expanding on the aspect concerning it being tailored to specific businesses.

Councilmember O’Neill was not convinced there would be an “appetite” for increased or double taxation and that perhaps, if financially beneficial, a fee structure could be more suitable.

As the conversation opens up to possible regulations or guidelines for charter owners, working on a local level could eventually solve a problem that has become a larger issue statewide.

Mayor Marshall “Duffy” Duffield recused himself due to conflict of inter

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