Docked Authority: What Can and What Can’t a Sheriff Do?

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.

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9 thoughts on “Docked Authority: What Can and What Can’t a Sheriff Do?

  • July 18, 2019 at 10:23 am

    Thank you, The Log, for shedding daylight on this issue important to all S. CA boaters! This action was wrong and needs review by elected officials – not the police.

  • July 18, 2019 at 12:13 pm

    Abuse of power for sure by big headed sheriff Corn.
    Our government authorities have crossed their designated boundaries. The sheriff’s department is enforcement only, they can not make, change, or interpret the law.

  • July 18, 2019 at 1:00 pm

    The OC Sheriff’s Harbor Patrol has broken the public trust: The public docks in question are on tidelands that were deeded to the County by State Lands and are subject to the Public Trust Doctrine whereby use shall be for the benefit of the people. The Sheriff’s Harbor Patrol is funded 100% by Tideland Funds and OC Park District funds (CSA 26) which by law must be spent to benefit public use of the harbor. A 2010 County Study determined that using these funds for general law enforcement is inappropriate. By closing off public access to these docks (including the visitor dock) the Sheriff’s Department has crossed the line and broken the public trust.

  • July 18, 2019 at 3:22 pm

    What was the punishment before overstaying the 72 hour parking limit. I was faced with this issue 15 years ago and a judge threw it out.

  • July 18, 2019 at 3:31 pm

    Dismayed Boater do your homework. After doing a online little research, the Harbor patrol is not funded 100% by Tideland funds. They do get a majority of their funding from that source though. I was at their dingy dock earlier this week and its open and available, not closed off as you mentioned. And the tie up time is daylight hours, which is about 14 hour today. How much time do you need? I’m glad they shortened the time limit. It stops the people who stored their boats at the dock.

  • July 18, 2019 at 4:09 pm

    So if boaters are breaking the 72 hour rule, we’ll just change it to 20 minutes. No-one would dare abuse that right? What is it with some people who think the solution to a rule not being followed is a stricter rule? How unimaginative do you have to be to get that job?

    If some boaters were abusing the 72 hour rules then I don’t know…maybe….those are the boaters who should be penalized.

  • July 18, 2019 at 7:51 pm

    You’re right, all docks in Newport or maybe all docks is California should be 72 hours…problem solved. Right? Wrong! The time limits should be what’s appropriate for each location. That is why the City of Newport has different time limits on their 13 public docks, each side has a different time, 20min, 12hrs. 24hrs and 72hrs. Maybe they should only have 72 hour limits on ALL their docks. Good luck with that!!

  • July 18, 2019 at 8:04 pm

    Pete Rabbitt’s “Letter to the Editor”, is a little inaccurate. The last time I checked the Bluewater Grill, Cannery or Lido Village are on the other side of the harbor from the Sheriff’s dock. It’s a 30-40 minute boat ride. I assumed the Log would do a little fact checking before including the comment…maybe not.

  • July 23, 2019 at 7:37 am

    Concerned Boater, I stand by my statement that the OC Sheriff’s Harbor Patrol is 100% funded through a combination of tideland funds and park district funds which by law, must be spent to the benefit of the harbor and the harbor users. By reducing public access at the dinghy dock and closing off their visitor dock, the OC Sheriff has broken the public trust. All they seem to care about it making a comfortable and private workplace for themselves. They don’t seem interested in serving the boating public.



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Standing Watch/Take Action

In this section you will find resources and supplemental information on what you can do to Take Action. Submit additional information or tips on this issue to

This issue is ultimately about public servants and the responsibilities they have to the people they serve.

One reader, who identified himself as Pete Rabbitt, sent this letter to the editor: “O.C. Sheriff [Lt.] Christopher Corn is a real public servant! NOT! What part of his brain did he employ to change the mooring limits from 72 hours … not to 24 hours, or 12 hours, but to 20 minutes? As a [Newport Beach] dinghy and Duffy owner it’s “puzzling” Lt. Corn took it upon himself to make such a radical change which eliminates the opportunity to enjoy a meal at Blue Water Grill, or the Cannery, or at Lido Village! Lt. Corn should be reminded that he and his associates provide what’s the best and fairest way to serve the Harbor Area’s boating community.”

What are your thoughts on the matter? Share your perspectives with us at Also share your thoughts with the policymakers and law enforcement agencies below.

The Log, meanwhile, has reached out to those who have expertise and knowledge of government law and operations. We will follow up with additional reporting and analysis as soon as we hear back from our sources on the questions presented above.


Orange County Board of Supervisors

(partial list)


Supervisor Lisa Bartlett (Dana Point)


Supervisor Michelle Steel (Newport Beach)


Newport Beach

(partial list)


Council member Marshall “Duffy” Duffield


Council member Brad Avery


Newport Beach Harbor Department


VHF Ch. 19


Newport Beach Harbor Patrol (O.C. Sheriff)


Lt. Christopher Corn


Newport Beach Harbor Commission

(partial list)


Scott Cunningham


Paul Blank


Bill Kenney, Jr.