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?