To Dock or Not To Dock: Sheriff’s Authority Still Unclear

Orange County Code does not appear to provide specific direction of whether Lt. Christopher Corn had the authority to restrict public dock usage in Newport Beach.

NEWPORT BEACH—If a newspaper or any other media outlet doggedly asks whether a simple action or decision was authorized but the questions lead to, well, more questions, then has the publication/outlet reached a point whether the efforts to seek answers isn’t worth the paper these words are printed on? We here at The Log, as you might be aware of by now, have spent the past few weeks persistently asking whether a Sheriff’s Department lieutenant – Christopher Corn – had the authority to change the time limit on a set of docks in Newport Beach from 72 hours to 20 minutes.

We presented a legal question or two in the previous issue of The Log. Our questions were not answered prior to press time – but they were answered, eventually. A public information officer with the county sent us a section of the Orange County Code, showing us someone did indeed have the power to make time limit changes to the public docks in Newport Beach. A careful analysis and interpretation of that code – and others – however, still does not fully answer whether Corn had the specific authority, without explicit direction from the proper channels, to drastically reduce how much time boaters had available to access a set of public docks at Newport Beach Harbor.

Title 2 of the Orange County Code addresses the maintenance of public facilities. Section 2-2-134 of the code specifically addresses harbor infrastructure.

“It is the policy of the county to maintain such facilities in a manner that will permit the greatest public use and avoid continuous occupancy, congestion or blocking thereof,” the county code reads. “Where necessary to achieve public use and avoid extended occupancy, congestion or blocking thereof, the director is authorized and directed to post signs limiting the time during which a vessel may be docked or supplies or gear may be placed at or on any such pier or facility.”

The code section’s mention of “director,” we’ve confirmed, is a reference to the official head of Orange County Parks: Stacy Blackwood.

Section 2-2-134 continues: “When such sign is in place giving notice of such time limit, no person shall dock a vessel at any such facility for a period of time longer than posted or permit any supplies or gear to remain on such facility for a period of time longer than posted.”

The three sentences of this code section make it clear the timings of dock use could be limited, especially if there is any sort of public nuisance – blocking, congestion, extended occupancy, etc. – caused by boaters. This interpretation of the code is black-and-white and not up for debate.

Not mentioned in the code section provided by Orange County staff was whether Corn had the authority to change the permissible amount of time to use the dock. The code specifically states the person who has the authority to place stricter time limits on public dock use is the “Director.” This director (Blackwood) is not a member of the Sheriff’s Department.

The code section, just the same, does not specify whether the referenced director transfers his or her authority any member of the Sheriff’s Department. So the question still remains of whether Corn had the authority to change the dock time limit from 72 hours to 20 minutes. A strict interpretation of Section 2-2-134 of the Orange County Code clearly indicates Corn could not have made the change on his own accord – at minimum he needs a mandate or direction from the referenced director (Blackwood).

It’s really a question of whether Corn could act on behalf of Blackwood.

Section 2-2-31 of the Orange County Code discusses Blackwood’s powers and duties. Blackwood is, among other things, permitted to “plan, organize, direct and control the work as it pertains to the development, maintenance, control or operation of the county’s regional harbors … and recreational area.”

She also has the power to “enforce the laws, ordinances, traffic and safety regulations covering usage of county harbors, waterways … and recreational areas.”

Another section of the code – 1-2-65 – discusses the limitation of authority of the County Executive Office.

“No provision of this article is intended to vest in the County Executive Officer any duty or grant to him or her any authority which is vested by law in any other county officer or employee,” Section 1-2-65 of the county code reads. “Nothing herein shall be construed to delegate to him or her any authority or duty required to be performed by the Board of Supervisors. The County Executive Officer shall have no power to bind, obligate or commit the County of Orange or the Board of Supervisors in connection with any contractual obligation.”

Could this section be interpreted in such a way as to limit the delegation of authority from one county employee to another? Put in a more simpler way: does this section restrict Blackwood from authorizing Corn to unilaterally limit public dock usage?

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10 thoughts on “To Dock or Not To Dock: Sheriff’s Authority Still Unclear

  • August 29, 2019 at 8:17 am
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    The Log, as usual, seems to leave out the section(s) (information) that do not support their agenda. After reading your digital edition and doing a little research, I easily found the below information.

    This is the rest of section 2-2-31.
    “The powers and duties of the Director set forth in this section 2-2-31 and elsewhere in this division, and each of said duties, unless otherwise expressly provided, may be performed by the Director, or by any other designated County employee, agent or independent contractor directed or authorized by the Director or the Board to exercise any of said powers or perform any of said duties.”

    And don’t forget this one.
    Sec. 2-2-134. – Maintenance of facilities.
    Public piers and other harbor facilities may be maintained by the County for the purpose of loading and unloading passengers, supplies and boating gear and for similar purposes. It is the policy of the County to maintain such facilities in a manner that will permit the greatest public use and avoid continuous occupancy, congestion or blocking thereof. Where necessary to achieve public use and avoid extended occupancy, congestion or blocking thereof, the Director is authorized and directed to post signs limiting the time during which a vessel may be docked or supplies or gear may be placed at or on any such pier or facility. When such sign is in place giving notice of such time limit, no person shall dock a vessel at any such facility for a period of time longer than posted or permit any supplies or gear to remain on such facility for a period of time longer than posted

    The Sheriff’s Department has managed those docks and has enforced the laws in all three Orange County harbors since they took over the Harbor Patrol duties in 1975. Both of these are duties of the Director of OC Parks, which have been delegated to the Sheriff’s Department for the last 44 years. By the way, the dingy dock hours are 6AM to 10PM, the same as the adjacent County beach.

    Reply
  • August 29, 2019 at 11:57 am
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    Much ado over a clear lack of authority. While I do not necessarily agree with allowing a single bureaucrat to deciding where I can or cannot be/ho long I can be there, the facts provided do make it clear that the sheriff has no such authority in this situation. Even if the sheriff has the authority to enforce the limitation, it does not include the authority to create it.

    Reply
  • August 29, 2019 at 12:04 pm
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    I think what the Log did in a great way is to really ask the larger question of whether boating access is a unilateral decision to be made by one person or one that values the needs of all constituents. It’s clear this decision was the former. If that’s perceived to be an “agenda,” I applaud the Log and any other public servant who recognizes it that way.

    Reply
  • August 29, 2019 at 2:59 pm
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    I think you need to reread the OCCO sections. The authority can be delegated.

    “The powers and duties of the Director set forth in this section 2-2-31 and elsewhere in this division, and each of said duties, unless otherwise expressly provided, may be performed by the Director, OR BY ANY OTHER COUNTY EMPLOYEE, AGENT OR INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR DIRECTED OR AUTHORIZED BY THE DIRECTOR OR THE BOARD TO EXERCISE ANY IF SAID POWERS OR PERFORM ANY OF SAID DUTIES.”

    I believe the Sheriff’s Department is a County agency and their employees are “County Employees.” If you don’t approve of the current law, have it changed through legislation.

    Reply
    • August 30, 2019 at 4:26 am
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      Concerned Boater,
      You’re an idiot, and you’re the one with an agenda.
      Kudos to The Log on this reporting.

      Reply
      • August 30, 2019 at 10:03 am
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        Nice reply. No need for name calling because we do not agree on this topic. No agenda here, just explaining the other side of the story because people do not know all the information and make uneducated remarks. That’s all. 🙂

        Reply
  • August 29, 2019 at 3:24 pm
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    Concerned Boater, is there a document, law or board decision granting the Sheriff’s Department power/authority to unilaterally change times of public access to docks, on behalf of the OC Parks Director? There are always limits on what powers can be executed on behalf of the Director. The codes you cited don’t operate in a vacuum. I’ve spoken with a few attorneys about this and each of them have agreed the codes you refer to aren’t interpreted as broadly as you are interpreting them. Which leads me to an important question, Concerned Boater. You have consistently been defending the Sheriff Department’s actions. Are you Lt. Chris Corn? I think you are, but posting here under the guise of a “concerned boater.”

    Reply
    • August 29, 2019 at 4:11 pm
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      That’s funny!!! I do know Lt Corn and have been following this from the beginning. I have spoken to him on many occasions about this and agree with most of their (his) decisions. Unfortunately for him, he cannot make false or exaggerated allegations like some of the posters here. So I can only speak for myself and I do know a lot about what is going on because I do my homework and call out those people. Any other questions WW?

      Reply
  • August 30, 2019 at 7:55 am
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    My question is does the Sheriff department have a letter from the director authorizing the Sheriff to create and enforce regulations concerning the Orange County harbors and docks?
    The Sheriff can not assume or presume authority. It must be specifically designated by the Director.

    Reply
  • August 30, 2019 at 9:40 am
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    Where does it say that a letter is required? Do they need a letter to enforce the law in the harbors, which is the Director’s responsibility per the OCCOs? How about rescuing stranded boaters…letter needed? After rereading the applicable OCCO codes, I do not see where a “letter” is required. Maybe they do need one, but I have not seen anything that requires it.

    Reply

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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 editor@thelog.com

It could be argued, in the grand scheme of things, our continued analysis of the public docks issue in Newport Beach is small potatoes. A small fraction of the population is actually affected by the public dock time restriction. Boaters are now allowed to dock at the place in question between sunrise and sunset. So why is The Log persisting with this story? Simple: if Corn was not authorized to act unilaterally and without direction in regulating the amount of time boaters had available to them at Newport Beach’s public docks, what else, beyond the scope of his authority, could he be deciding? Our government has a specific process in place. The process might be annoying but it’s in place to prevent abuses of power and maintain accountability and transparency.

We need answers here to determine whether the Sheriff’s Department – and Orange County, for that matter – is following protocol and not abusing the powers it doesn’t have.

Feel free to reach out to the following individuals and policymakers and ask for answers.

 

Orange County Board of Supervisors

Chairwoman Lisa A. Bartlett, 5th District

714-834-3550

lisa.bartlett@ocgov.com

 

Michelle Steel, 2nd District

714-834-3220

michelle.steel@ocgov.com

 

Andrew Do, 1st District

714-834-3110

andrew.do@ocgov.com

 

Donald P. Wagner, 3rd District

714-834-3330

donald.wagner@ocgov.com

 

Doug Chaffee, 4th District

714-834-3440

doug.chaffee@ocgov.com

 

Orange County Sheriff’s Department

Harbor Patrol Division

949-723-1002

 

Lt. Chris Corn

cfcorn@ocsd.org

 

OC Parks

Stacy Blackwood, Director

stacy.blackwood@ocparks.com

949-923-3743

 

County Executive Office

Frank Kim, County Executive Officer

frank.kim@ocgov.com

714-834-2345

714-834-3530