I called Mario Mainero, Moorlach's chief of staff. Mainero confirmed that this idea certainly was "consistent with Supervisor Moorlach's views on local control for cities and that it's worth exploring." He also felt that a strong argument to transfer jurisdiction to Newport would maintain consistency in law enforcement. We also talked about how the Sheriff's Department is understaffed by about 11% due to a large number of retirees.
Since the 1950s, the Harbor Patrol division of the Sheriff's Department has protected the Dana Point, Huntington Beach and Newport Beach harbors.
My neighbor and friend, Councilman Ed Selich, agrees that local jurisdictions should take care of their own. Selich is a boat owner, and he believes the Newport Police and Fire departments can handle the boating responsibilities. He also feels a city takeover would be more efficient since law enforcement would extend from the land to the ocean.
Right now, the county Harbors, Beaches and Parks Department spends $5.8 million annually to patrol Newport Harbor. The county would like to pass that bill to the local jurisdictions. The best estimate I could come up with after consulting city and county officials shows that it would cost Newport $3.5 million to $4 million to do the same job. So where does the money come from?
This is probably what you can expect: increases in fees for docks, harbors, residential and commercial pier permits, mooring and charter boats, just to name a few. It is my understanding that the city is looking to raise harbor- and boating-related fees regardless of whether it takes over the harbor.
My guess would be that the city will make another play to take over the county-controlled Newport Dunes. The dunes generates about $2 million a year for the county, which would certainly offset the harbor costs. There is other money and grants available, too.
Here's another item we should look into. All boat owners are taxed 1% of the assessed value of their boat annually, which goes to the state. The county only receives a portion of the collected money. Sources tell me that if the county received most of that money, in all likelihood all Orange County harbors could be self sufficient on those dollars alone. Will Newport ask for some of that state money if it takes over the harbor?
Who really has the best recipe for success for our harbor?
BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach and hosted the "At Home on the Range" cooking show with John Crean. She's active in several local civic associations.