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Mooring debate stays afloat

Newport Mooring Assn. members some bayfront homeowners, like Donald Bren, should help and pay more for docks.

November 16, 2010|By Mike Reicher, mike.reicher@latimes.com

NEWPORT BEACH — If some Newport Harbor boaters have their way, Donald Bren would pay more to keep up the bay.

He and other bayfront homeowners would pay more for docks like the one in front of his Harbor Island home. And the business Bren chairs, the Irvine Co., and other commercial marina operators would give a larger cut of their profits.

But such increases aren't likely to happen before the city hikes the fees for moorings, the floating cans boaters lease from the government.

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Mooring holders packed the City Council Chambers last week to protest the Newport Beach's proposed fee increases and rules restricting their ability to transfer permits.

Holders say city officials want to raise their fees disproportionally, and that others should pay more, including some of the politically influential people like bayfront homeowners.

"They look at us like a piggy bank," said Mark Sites, a board member of the Newport Mooring Assn., an advocacy group for mooring holders. "We're not the only boats that are using the harbor."

City officials say they will evaluate the costs and revenues associated with all harbor users, but that they want to tackle each issue separately because of the complexity. The moorings, for instance, carry the weight of an Orange County grand jury investigation, which found the city was mismanaging the mooring process.

"It's a very, very complicated situation," said Councilman Mike Henn. "What we have in Newport Bay has just sort of evolved over time."

One of the findings of the grand jury was that the city hadn't assessed the moorings' "fair market value" since the mid-1990s.

Because the annual mooring fees are low — $20 per linear foot (of a boat), compared to more than $500 per foot at a private marina — boaters covet one of the public cans.

They've been willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars to a current mooring holder, under the table, to have a permit transferred into their name.

By hiking the fees and setting them to about 15% of the harbor's average private marina rent, city officials hope to break the cycle.

"The city gets nothing from that check that's written, and that mooring is a public asset," Henn said. "The point is, a user of the harbor that's using a public asset should pay an appropriate value."

Members of the Mooring Assn. contend that the city doesn't extract enough from those whose docks sometimes extend over city-owned tidelands.

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