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Newport lightens up for boat parade

The event had been the target of opponents of a dock fee increase, but residents decided instead to show their true holiday colors.

December 11, 2013|By Michael Miller
  • Rhonda Tolar, left, helps Alexandra Christensen with her angel costume on Monday. Christensen, along with 19 other people, including Tolar, will ride on her decorated Jeaneau 57 sailboat for the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade.
Rhonda Tolar, left, helps Alexandra Christensen with… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

Last year around this time, it was an almost ubiquitous news item in Newport Beach: the proposed boycott of the annual Christmas Boat Parade by residents who opposed a new city-imposed fee hike on their docks.

The grass-roots group Stop the Dock Tax asked property owners to keep their vessels and homes dark out of protest. City Councilman Mike Henn used the Daily Pilot's opinion page to denounce the "sensationalized threats." As the furor escalated, the tourism bureau, Visit Newport Beach, ended up putting out a statement clarifying that the parade would go on as planned.

A year later, the effects of the boycott will still be visible — though, ironically, they'll take the form of light rather than darkness.

According to parade Chairman David Beek, the negative publicity inspired more residents to take part last year, and sign-ups this fall have been ahead of the usual pace. As of Friday, about 50 boats had been signed up for the parade and about 40 homes for the Ring of Lights home-decorating competition. The festivities this year will also feature fireworks on two nights — a tradition started last year in an attempt to counter the negative publicity.

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The official theme for this year's parade is "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," submitted by residents Judy Candelaria and Michelle Stranak. In light of recent events, though, perhaps "Reverse Psychology" is the true guiding principle.

"Regardless of where you stood on the dock tax issue, the Christmas Boat Parade is the Christmas Boat Parade, and you don't want to convolute the two," Beek said. "So a lot of people didn't think that was right, and the way they showed that was by participating more in the parade."

The opponents of the dock fee increase are continuing to pursue their case in court, but Stop the Dock Tax leader Bob McCaffrey said he had no plans to call for another boycott. How much of a boycott actually occurred in 2012 remains unclear — none of the residents the Daily Pilot spoke with said they noticed an unusual number of dark homes, and McCaffrey himself said he had no idea how many people heeded the call.

"We sent advertisements out, paid for newspaper ads encouraging the people to remove their boats and not have their lights on," he said. "I know of no way to go around the bay and find out how successful that was."

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