Letter to the Editor: Should a City Tell Us What We Can Do in Our Own Backyard?

Byline: Lee Randolph

Regarding your story “Embattled Shipwright Removes Boat from His Yard,” in the Nov. 9-22 issue, I still have no idea why the Newport Beach City Council, the city attorney and the city’s legal team got so worked up about — and spent so much time and money trying to fight — one older gentleman whose only “crime” was wanting to finish rebuilding an antique boat in his own backyard.

The city had originally granted him permission to start working on the project in 2006. But after some political pressure by one or two well-connected neighbors who do not like to look at boats, even though they chose to live in a boating community, the city evidently decided to change its tune. Newport Beach passed an ordinance to turn one man’s boat project — one that had already been approved and permitted — into something illegal to complete within a residential area.

Never mind that the guy doing the boat rebuilding was a master shipwright with quite a reputation for his work, having built the tall ship formerly known as Pilgrim, now called Spirit of Dana Point, in the backyard of his former home in Costa Mesa. And never mind that he has a complete workshop at his home, housed in an antique barn building that has a long history in Orange County.

It seems to me that there was a concerted effort to make this guy look like some kind of a kook, a crackpot or a rank amateur who would never successfully complete his ambitious project. And the city’s legal efforts to crack down on him were unrelenting — and probably quite expensive.

So, it seems, the old saying is true: You can’t fight City Hall. The city demanded that the man’s boat be removed from his property, threatened fines and jail if the boat was not removed on schedule, and then took the matter to court.

The city attorney convinced an Orange County Superior Court judge to appoint a “receiver” to confiscate the Newport Beach resident’s classic boat, tear it apart and remove it from his property. However, before that happened, the boat restorer managed to dismantle his beloved classic boat by himself.

There are big implications here for Newport Beach residents and boat owners.

Will boat repair and restoration be deemed by some locals to be so “unsightly” that the city will eventually close down the few local boatyards that remain in business here? Will the city start closing down marinas, where crowds of these fully operational boats tend to gather, because of complaints about too-loud engine noise and too-crowded harbor traffic? And will owners of trailerable boats who want to keep them on their property someday be banished from the community entirely — thanks to the efforts of the same kind of people who think having a kids’ basketball hoop on a neighbor’s garage will somehow lower property values citywide?

Can the city really take away property owners’ basic rights to the legal use of our own home and land, simply by passing an ordinance that turns something we are doing legally today into something that is illegal and prohibited tomorrow?

I think we all need to look at what happened to Newport Beach resident and boat restorer Dennis Holland with great concern. The city came after his boat this time. Will it be coming after ours next time?

Lee Randolph

Costa Mesa


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