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Dock use making waves for lifeguards

After docks were refurbished, county asks that city pay for lifeguards to store rescue boats there.

July 07, 2011|By Mike Reicher, mike.reicher@latimes.com

County parks officials want to charge Newport Beach lifeguards to store their rescue boats at a public guest dock, even though for decades the guards have used the slips at no cost.

As local governments fend for every dollar, Newport leaders have pushed back and argued that the city's residents already pay their fair share for county harbor services. In the meantime, lifeguards have been storing their boats at a marina farther from the harbor entrance.

Officials say that the current arrangement is unsafe for beachgoers and for bay boaters.

"I understand that every government is looking to increase revenues," said Newport Beach Councilwoman Nancy Gardner, "but this, to me, could be a real safety issue."

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Lifeguards now store their yellow Sea Watch boats at the Balboa Yacht Basin, a city-owned marina between the west end of Balboa Island and Bayside Drive. It can them take 10 minutes longer to reach the surfline if they leave from there instead of the county docks.

Guards also run the risk of creating large wakes when speeding through calm, narrow channels near that marina. Wakes can push boats against docks and damage both, and also can upend paddleboarders, kayaks and other small craft.

In a more open part of the harbor, the county docks are at the Orange County Sheriff's Department Harbor Patrol headquarters farther south on Bayside Drive. For as long as anyone can remember, the Newport guards have kept their boats at adjoining guest slips. But when OC Parks, the agency that manages the land, refurbished the docks earlier this year, Newport had to move its boats.

Once the docks were finished in late May, county officials said the city would have to pay if the guards wanted to return.

Officials haven't yet discussed a price, said Rich Adler, real estate manager for OC Parks.

"What about the compensation for … displacing the public's guest docks?" asked Adler. "They're really there for the public to use."

Gardner counters that Newport residents pay more into the county parks fund than the county spends on Newport's Harbor Patrol, and that other revenues mostly pay for the county-run Peter and Mary Muth Interpretive Center and Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve.

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