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Newport challenges claims by dock fee opponents [updated]

Officials say lack of evidence of a temporary restraining order spells insufficient legal standing.

April 24, 2013|By Jill Cowan

Newport Beach officials shot back Wednesday at a group suing the city over dock fee increases, saying that they had yet to see evidence of a request for a temporary restraining order that would prevent the city from collecting those fees.

The officials contend that the group failure to follow through on a threat to file means that it has no legal footing to stop the collection.

Stop the Dock Tax and the Newport Beach Dock Owners Assn. used a recent mailer to publicize its request for a restraining order that would prevent the city from collecting the fees until a lawsuit challenging the new rates works its way through the courts.

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"A [temporary restraining order] is only issued if it can be shown there is a likelihood of success the [Newport Beach Dock Owners Assn.] will prevail on the merits of its underlying claim," Mayor Keith Curry said in a statement. "Here, the city complied with the law in all aspects and we believe it is very unlikely the association would be successful in court."

A mailer the association sent to residential pier owners affected by a rent increase — raised from $100 annually to 56.5 cents per square foot per year — for the use of public tidelands encouraged those homeowners not to pay the fees.

The Newport Dock Owners Assn. and the Stop the Dock Tax group said in the letter that it was seeking the restraining order to stop the owners of residential piers over public waters from paying the higher rates because, the groups contended, doing so was akin to entering into a contract.

The city has already begun collecting the fees for this year, along with utility bills for water and recycling.

The group has said that its request for a temporary restraining order was scheduled to be heard in court April 19.

That hearing was then rescheduled to this Friday, according to an email sent by Newport Beach political consultant David Ellis, an Orange County Fair Board member who has worked with the dock owners.

But the city, in a news release, said that no such request had been filed. And, according to the Orange County Superior Court website and a court spokeswoman, the next hearing scheduled in the case is set for May 16.

That hearing, Assistant City Attorney Michael Torres has said, could decide the fate of the lawsuit overall — not just whether the city must stop collecting the fees.

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