Orange County’s Docks: A Tale of Two Maritime Parking Scenes

Dana Point Harbor marina management discusses parking complaints in anticipation of planning for boater-related parking; an update about the 20-minute time limit at OC Sheriff’s Department’s docks in Newport Beach.

ORANGE COUNTY—Parking in Southern California has grown substantially in the headache department and the waterside is no different. In recent news, The Log has reported extensively on Dana Point Harbor’s revitalization and another time limit change to visitor docks in Newport Beach.

The Log spoke with Ralph Grippo, principal of Bellwether Financial Group; the executive said while temporary chaos might exist, the promise of the future would bring 334 trailer parking spots to Dana Point’s newly refreshed harbor. Bellwether Financial, making up one-third of the Dana Point Harbor Partners (DPHP), is tasked with the marina side of the redevelopment and are currently operating The Marina at Dana Point.

On the other end, a letter from California Coastal Commission surfaced stating Orange County Sheriff’s Department was found to have wrongly put a 20-minute time limit on the docks among other points.


Planning for Dana Point Harbor’s Parking Lot

While some boaters have undoubtedly been annoyed by the parking situation at Dana Point Harbor, Grippo stressed all parking situations are temporary while planning for the new parking structure continues.

DPHP took on a massive undertaking (for a small harbor) when it signed a lease with Orange County in October 2018, allowing the private entity to oversee Dana Point’s revitalization project; county officials had been trying to get it off the ground for nearly 20 years. A glowing article shared by Dana Point Boaters Association details the groundbreaking amenities that DPHP, a collective of well-known Newport Beach-based developers including Bellwether Financial, R.D. Olson and Burnam-Ward, plan for Dana Point’s future. It also discusses Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett’s quest to finalize the lease agreement. However, with change there is always bound to be some growing pains.

“It’s a process – and there’s no way to avoid the process,” Grippo said.

An unnamed source close to the matter recently shared an email with The Log about the experience in dealing with the new boat trailer parking.

“The new operators of Dana Point Harbor have remodeled the Boat ramp Parking lot and have reduced the number of trailer parking spots by [75 percent]! There are now less than 100 trailer parking spots available at the ramp. They have converted the other spots into a car parking lot. This will seriously reduce the access by trailer boaters to ocean,” the email read.

In response, Grippo stated the parking area may appear smaller than it is because boat trailer parking is now no longer mixed in with regular vehicle parking. The operators, in terms of the boat launch and boat trailer parking, have been aiming to reduce accidents and liabilities through first organizing the parking lot near Embarcadero Marina, which may appear to be in disarray at the moment.

Through the discord of the new development, Grippo said although there might be some miscommunication, when the development is completed, there will be 334 boat trailer spots and 100 designated for dry storage in accordance with Dana Point’s Local Coastal Plan (LCP).

The email mentioned prior harshly criticized the new marina’s management, stating The Marina at Dana Point’s staff had not been very communicative in explaining new policies. When asked about the communication issues, Grippo acknowledged he had welcomed about 25 individuals into his office to floor complaints back in February and March, but is working to create more excitement and momentum about the new marina.

According to Grippo, there will be no construction this summer. DPHP will still be going through entitlement processes, permitting and other procedures to get the revitalization process off the ground. Dry storage parking, trailer parking, visitor parking and overnight parking will operate as normal in reserved spaces. Grippo told The Log signage has been posted and any visitors are welcome to speak with staff for their concerns.

Grippo, who emphasized his long career in hospitality, has been involved in public outreach meetings about parking spaces and how to handle the parking situation as Dana Point Harbor continues to be developed. Accordingly, Grippo is striving to improve parking and communication, because he knows if customers have a bad experience they won’t come back. One example he muses on is the National Park in Muir Woods, where it is impossible to park unless you reserve a spot possibly weeks in advance. As California continues to grow as a state and parking continues to be a valuable commodity in crowded areas: What can state, county and city officials do to ensure smooth parking for recreational attractions?

Grippo, however, does not see this kind of future of reserving spots for Dana Point Harbor – that is once the waterfront’s construction is done and dusted.

Dana Point Harbor Advisory Board has been keeping documentation on the harbor development project at


Coastal Commission Letter to OC Sheriff’s Department

The Log reported in the May 17 issue that Orange County Sheriff’s Harbor Patrol Headquarters had limited parking from 72 hours to 20 minutes. An unnamed source close to the matter released a letter from the California Coastal Commission detailing that the Sheriff’s Department had in fact made violations in altering the time limit as well as several other violations.

In a letter to Lt. Chris Corn, addressed on May 20, it read staff had found several developments with Coastal Development Permit (CDP) No. 5-07-370 and 5-94-255 at Orange County Sheriff’s Harbor Patrol Headquarters. The follow non-compliant changes included:

  • A change of use to two public guest docks to lifeguard boat
  • Placement of “Keep Out” and “Authorized Personnel Only” signage at the entrance to public docks/public guest pilings
  • A change to public dinghy tie up access from 72 hours to 20 minutes
  • Change from use of Visitor Dock to Emergency Dock
  • Relocation of 10 public beach parking spaces from a Commission-approve location
  • Failure to provide a Commission-approved beach drop off point for beach patrons

At the time the article was printed, the California Coastal Commission had yet to respond. However, the letter now shines light on some details that were missing when the original article was first published.  The California Coastal Commission reinforced the harbor patrol office should seek the necessary CDP or amendments if any of these changes will be made and prompted harbor patrol to take action before May 29.


Violating Coastal Access

It may be in the community’s best interests to develop property in a quick and efficient manner (Parimal M. Rohit recently penned a Standing Watch column on this very topic), but there are also procedures that the California Coastal Commission puts in place to make sure developers, state officials and others do not violate a Californian’s rights to access our biggest asset – the coast.

A Local Coastal Plan, or “LCP,” is put in place for nearly every seaside city in Southern California. Within the LCP, there are very specific policies outlined to conform to the California Coastal Commission and create the best experience for all visitors, boaters or not. Either way, if developers do violate the LCP – the results are not welcoming.

The Log reached out to the California Coastal Access to ask what happens if a developer were to make changes to an LCP without gaining approval from the Coastal Commission in advance.

“Basically any changes being proposed would require a local coastal program amendment that we would have to analyze, especially any changes that would impact public access,” said Noaki Schwartz, Public Information Officer for California Coastal Commission.

What can happen if say a developer does not gain approval from the California Coastal Commission? A recent case involving a Santa Monica hotel developer has come under fire for “bait and switch,” according to an article by Bisnow Los Angeles.

At the end of the day, how can these parking/docking issues be addressed in a fair way that provides the best experience for beachgoers? The Log will continue to report on further developments.

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13 thoughts on “Orange County’s Docks: A Tale of Two Maritime Parking Scenes

  • May 30, 2019 at 8:21 am

    I am dismayed to learn the OC Sheriff’s Harbor Patrol has cut off public access to the public docks in Newport. I’ve seen all sorts of folks using those docks especially kids. I’m glad the Coastal Commission is pushing back to make things right. Given the Harbor Patrol Sheriffs are blessed with the best gig in law enforcement, I am disappointed to see them treat public access in this fashion. Hip, Hip, hooray for the California Coastal Commission!

    • May 30, 2019 at 7:12 pm

      When was the last time you were at the Harbor Patrol docks? I happened to stop by there Memorial Day weekend and discovered that they had extended the dingy dock hours to “Dawn to Dusk.” That’s about 12 plus hours! Looks like they are working with the Coastal Commission.

  • May 30, 2019 at 7:37 pm

    Local Boater, I believe they only “cut off” access to the dock by their office, not the dinghy dock by the pump out area. That time limit has apparently changed to “Dawn to Dusk.” Which currently would be about 14 hour time limit. Things are looking up!! And no more permanent boat storage for the selected few..

  • June 2, 2019 at 1:41 pm

    Concerned boater, in the past year, the access at the dinghy dock went from 72 hours, to “red-no/tie-ups”, to “20 minute” useless tie-up. It appears now that the Coastal Commission is applying the pressure, the Sheriff’s are trying to appease the Coastal Commission with the minimum access possible. What a bummer that the OC Sheriff’s Harbor Patrol doesn’t place more value on public access in regards to the serving the public that pays their salaries…….

  • June 3, 2019 at 2:41 pm

    Local Boater, I see your point, however all the docks in Newport Harbor have permanent storage issues. Take a drive around and you’ll see the how crowded the public docks are. Many mooring owners use the public docks as their free permanent storage areas. I don’t get free boat storage, why should they? The Harbor Patrol basically eliminated that issue on their dock by shortening the time limit. I think 12-14 hours is reasonable, don’t you? Should anyone get to store their boat for free and take up space for visiting boaters? What the HP changed to is fair for EVERYONE.

  • June 5, 2019 at 3:14 pm

    Concerned Boater, to address any “boat storage” concern all the OC Sheriff Harbor Patrol Deputies had to do was get off their duff and write a ticket or impound. The dinghy dock is right under their nose. But this would actually involve work for them. The fact is the OC Sheriff’s Harbor Patrol does not want to deal with the public any more than they have to. That is why they had “keep out” signs posted on the 5 guest slips at their location and that is why they are now the only Harbor Patrol operation in California without a visitor dock. They simply have very little interest in serving the public that pays their salaries.

  • June 6, 2019 at 11:09 am

    Local Boater, It appears you are not a fan of the Harbor Patrol. It looks like we agree to disagree. Daily use in my opinion is reasonable, 72 hour boat storage is not. Who needs to park their boat there for 3 days? Definitely not visiting boaters or people that want to use the county beach or walk to the store or use the restrooms.

  • June 6, 2019 at 11:26 pm

    Concerned Boater, you are correct, I am quite concerned with the OC Sheriff’s Harbor Patrol behavior. They have been depleting the OC Parks budget for years and specifically the Dana Point Tidelands funds with their runaway budget. And now, they have told the recreational boater to pound sand by closing off their visitor dock. The OC Sheriff’s Harbor Patrol simply has no interest in serving the public and more interest in creating their own private Sheriff’s Yacht club as evidenced by their annual lavish boat parade party at the same docks in Newport that they have closed from public access. Very concerning Mr. Concerned Boater

  • June 8, 2019 at 8:15 pm

    Local Boater, So you good with the 15 hour time limit or is that to short for you too?

    • June 10, 2019 at 9:04 am

      Concerned Boater,
      The O.C. Sheriff’s Harbor Patrol should abide by the laws of the land and restore the access to 72 hours, as it was prior to violating the CA Coastal Act. If the Sheriff feels the need to change it, he can go through the lawful process that ultimately involves public input. It was not appropriate the Harbor Patrol to act like they are god and unilaterally take away public access. I am relieved the CA Coastal Commission called them out. It seems the Sheriff’s Department is not the correct agency to be managing public access at public docks in Newport.

  • June 11, 2019 at 4:21 pm

    We learned earlier this year that “extended overnight parking” is no longer permitted at the Dana Point Embarcadero Marina. This was just devastating news to us, as we have been trailering our 30-foot boat to Dana Point from San Diego and leaving our truck and trailer in the parking lot for many days (typically about a week) for over 10 years. We would do this to take family trips on our boat to Catalina. Now there is no easy way to do this. Also, we would often get a guest slip and stay for two weeks, leaving to go over to Catalina during that timeframe. We would, of course, park our trailer in the lot. This new decision to only allow single-night overnight parking totally removes our ability to easily access coastal waters and Catalina for several nights. Leaving out of San Diego is not an option. Yes, I know we can go to Newport Harbor back bay launch ramp, but that is further to trailer, nowhere near as nice of a marina and launch ramp, and further to get out to sea. Anyway, if there is anyway Mr. Ralph Grippo, principal of Bellwether Financial Group, would consider allowing boaters who trailer to Dana Point to park their trailers and trucks in the lot for more than one night and up to, say, two weeks, this would make us so happy. We have been very upset trying to figure out how best to get over to Catalina this summer on our boat. We were turned away from the Embarcadero Marina office when we asked to pay for multiple nights (as we have for over 10 years). Please make access to Catalina for trailered boats easy and let us pay for in advance and park in the lot for multiple nights. The article states “According to Grippo, there will be no construction this summer…Dry storage parking, trailer parking, visitor parking and overnight parking will operate as normal in reserved spaces.” To us, “operate as normal” means we should be able to pay in advance for multiple nights of parking in the trailer lot. That is “normal” operation, at least for the past 10 years. I really hope this can happen. Thank you.

  • June 12, 2019 at 9:46 pm

    Dear Dana Point Boater, while I am not familiar with the Dana Point overnight parking consideration it may be worthwhile contacting the California Coastal Commission. I am not an attorney and this should not be considered legal advise, but in general: Any change in public access (or private property or public property) requires a Coastal Development Permit with the change spelled out in the permit. Just as in the Orange County Sheriff’s Harbor Patrol situation, the CA Coastal Commission may be the only government agency to assist you in this coastal access concern. Here is their phone number: 562-590-5071

    • June 13, 2019 at 1:02 pm

      Thank you Local Boater!



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