Access to Newport Beach’s public docks was reduced from 72 hours to 20 minutes before the California Coastal Commission stepped in – did the OC Sheriff’s Department go too far?
NEWPORT BEACH—Don’t shoot the Sheriff, or the deputy. Don’t question his authority, either – especially when it comes to dictating how much time you can leave your boat at a public dock. Unless you’re the California Coastal Commission – only then does the decision to reduce the allowable time to leave your boat at a public dock in Newport Beach from 72 hours to 20 minutes become an issue.
Anyone who has been reading The Log these past few weeks is by now aware of Lt. Christopher Corn’s decision to reduce access at a set of public docks in Newport Beach from 72 hours to 20 minutes. The Coastal Commission ultimately challenged Corn’s decision, causing him to change the regulation and now allow boats to access the public docks from dawn to dusk.
Asking why Corn made such a drastic decision in the first place – and reducing access of public docks from 72 hours to 20 minutes is drastic – really isn’t the question to ask. Instead we should ask whether Corn was authorized to reduce access to Newport Beach’s public docks by 4,300 minutes (or 99.5 percent, for added perspective), in the first place.
Corn has defended his position to The Log, saying his decision to reduce the amount of time boaters had to access the docks was not illegal. There is a difference, however, between legality and authority. An action being “not illegal” doesn’t necessarily mean it is authorized. It is possible for Corn’s decision to be not against the law AND not authorized.
There are nuances within how the law operates, but even more, the Sheriff’s Department – any Sheriff’s Department – operates as a law enforcement agency. The meaning of this should be clear – members of the Sheriff’s Department enforces the law. Deputies, lieutenants, sergeants, even the Sheriff – none of them create the law or mandate regulations. Corn, to be fair, acknowledged this, but he still took matters into his own hands – because he believed he was authorized to do so.
Herein lies the true question: Was the time limit on the public docks a policy, regulation or law? Answering this question in the affirmative should take any decision-making powers on the policy/regulation/law out of the hands of anyone in law enforcement. Such decisions should be made by the actual policymakers overseeing the specific jurisdiction. Orange County’s Board of Supervisors would likely be the policymaking agency in charge, as the Sheriff’s Department is involved.
The way the city of Santa Monica manages its parking rules and time limit could provide some insight here. Santa Monica’s City Council decides what parking restrictions apply (and where). A stretch of Montana Avenue, for example, might be labeled as Zone R. Anyone with a (fictional) Zone R permit can park along this stretch of road without restriction. Anyone without a Zone R permit either can’t park along this stretch of road at all, or during certain hours, or with the resident’s permission and a temporary pass.
Enforcement of these parking restrictions was conducted by – surprise, surprise – the Santa Monica Police Department. But it was the City Council who deliberated and mandated the rules and restrictions. This writer, while writing at another publication, covered several City Council meetings where parking rules and restrictions were deliberated (and voted on).
How do we classify the leaving of a boat at a public dock? If we define this as “parking,” then would the scenario above apply to the situation at Newport Beach’s public docks? Orange County’s Board of Supervisors – or Newport Beach’s City Council, depending upon who has jurisdiction over the public docks area – should be the public entity mandating the length of time a boat can be docked at the public docks. The Sheriff’s Department, it follows, should be enforcing what the supervisors (or City Council members, whichever jurisdiction applies) mandated. This is the correct form of government function.
The Log’s staff writer, Devon Warren-Kachelein, spoke with Corn several times about his decision, and at least once he said access to the public docks was slashed from 72 hours to 20 minutes because too many boaters were abusing the rules. Boaters were apparently leaving their vessels at the docks for longer than 72 hours. He also told Warren-Kachelein the 99.5 percent reduction in time was rooted in a necessity to ensure public safety.
Let’s give Corn here the benefit of the doubt and acknowledge there might have been boaters who left their boats at the public docks for too long and the time allotted to park here actually posed a threat to public safety. Perhaps he truly believed the abuse of time constituted an emergency, hence the need to take immediate action. But what was the emergency? Neither Corn, the city nor the county offered a detailed explanation as to what sort of emergency existed to justify a 99.5 percent reduction in public access.
An emergency situation would certainly justify a temporary or short-term action – but one has to wonder whether Corn would have allowed the 20-minute time restriction to remain in place had the Coastal Commission not intervened – and, if this truly was the case, then was there ever really an emergency in the first place?
The lack of an emergency means we still have to ask this question: Was Corn authorized to unilaterally act and alter the time allotted to park at Newport Beach’s public docks?
The proper protocol should have been this: Corn, in recognizing certain boaters were overstaying their welcome or otherwise not following the rules, would have created a staff report and presented his case to the O.C. Board of Supervisors/Newport Beach City Council (whichever agency is in charge). The overseeing agency would then deliberate the matter and come to a decision. If the board or council mandated the allowable time to use the public docks should be reduced from 72 hours to 20 minutes – so be it, the proper process was followed. Members of the public, of course, can challenge the decision – but again, the proper process was followed, and the public would be within their own rights to respond, accordingly.