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Blips on the Radar: Dana Point Harbor Slip Fee Rise

What happened: On June 21, 2021, tenants in Dana Point Harbor received a letter from Bellwether Financial alerting them of a 26 to 96 percent increase in slip fees beginning on Oct. 1.

Rates for slips under 30 feet increased by 26 percent, and the largest slips between 55 and 60 feet increased by 90 percent.

In an Aug. 10, 2021, letter addressed to the Orange County Board of Supervisors, Dennis C. Winters, a legal advisor for the Dana Point Boaters Association (DPBA), alleged that the Dana Point Harbor Partners violated the spirit of the lease and the Tidelands Grant to the County, which states that prices will be ‘market rate’ and pricing would be reasonably determined and consistent with the limitation on pricing as mandated by the grant.

On Sept. 2, 2021, the Recreational Boaters of California sent a letter to the California Coastal Commission and the California State Lands Commission advocating for DPBA and requesting that the State Lands Commission take timely action to prevent the increase.

On Sept. 22, 2021, a class-action lawsuit was filed against Dana Point Harbor Partners on behalf of slip holders in Dana Point Harbor. The suit was filed in the Orange County Superior Court and asked the court to stop the proposed 26 to 96 percent increase in slip fees, which the suit alleged is out of line compared to the market rate for publicly owned marinas. The suit also asked for damages.

The slip fee increase went into effect on Oct. 1, 2021. However, on Nov. 5, 2021, there was a preliminary injunction hearing in front of an Orange County judge who did not issue an injunction but found that boaters had the right to sue the harbor partners for a violation of the lease.

What’s on Tap:  On March 18, there was a Demurrer hearing in front of Orange County Superior Court Judge, Glenda Sanders, DPHP filed a Demurrer or objection against the lawsuit on the grounds that they don’t believe there was sufficient legal background for the case.

On March 23, Sanders issued a final ruling on the Demurrer, in favor of the Dana Point boaters and slip holders.

Dennis Winters of Winters Law Firm, representing the Dana Point boaters and slip holders said the judge ruled that they have grounds for three of their causes of action: for Injunctive Relief, Breach of Contract and Unfair Business Practices.

In the final ruling Sanders said there was a Cause of Action for each of these points but held the Demurrer for the other two Causes of Action alleging Constructive Eviction and Declaratory Relief and is giving the boaters and slip holders legal time to amend the complaint.

The case will now enter into a Discovery Phase where both sides will gather the evidence they need to move forward.

“A class action is not a simple process. It usually takes a couple of years to get to the very end of it,” said Winters.

Sanders set a status conference for mid-July.

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