After holding several private meetings on the issue, Newport Beach city leaders faced an onslaught of public criticism Wednesday night over plans to increase fees for residential docks in city-owned areas of Newport Harbor.
Council members seemed to be moving full steam ahead with the plan until residents threatened to boycott the city’s treasured Christmas boat parade, then showed up in droves to Wednesday’s special meeting.
“We’re given this proposal that simply has so many issues in it,” said Kristine Thagard, an attorney for the Newport Beach Dock Owners Association, which has launched a public relations campaign against the increase.
“The problem is when we rush to judgment, bad decisions get made. Bad results occur,” Thagard said.
Council members got the message and postponed their decision to a special meeting Dec. 11 at 4 p.m. The council still seemed intent on ultimately raising the fees.
“I do think we need to get all the public input, complete the public input on this, and then continue the council consideration at the next meeting,” said Councilman Michael Henn.
The proposal would increase the annual fees from a flat $100 to 52.5 cents per square foot. That would raise most fees to more than $400, with some larger yacht docks paying more than $3,000.
Despite the outcry, city leaders say they need the extra cash to maintain the harbor.
“What we are about here is for each participant to pay what is fair for that participant,” said Henn. “We have really tried to think hard about how to fairly apply this in a way that’s appropriate.”
Newport Beach has a large funding gap in its harbor costs, according to a staff presentation. For $24.4 million in tideland expenses each year, the city brings in $10.5 million in revenues, the presentation showed. The bulk of those costs — more than 70 percent — are for public safety.
After hearing more than two dozen residents speak, the council also acquiesced to concerns about insurance requirements and yearly fee increases to the consumer price index.
Council leaders agreed that their proposal to require dock owners to have insurance that indemnifies the city was unreasonable, and they agreed to a cap of 2 percent yearly fee increases.
Jim Mosher, a resident and noted council watchdog, also expressed concern about how council members discussed and refined the fee issue behind closed doors in an ad hoc committee. The committee has four council members, Mosher said, which would make up a majority of the body.
City Attorney Aaron Harp responded that because Councilman Ed Selich didn’t participate in the meetings, they weren’t illegal.
Pete Pallette, a spokesman for opponents, said the issue came down to city leaders not giving the public enough time to weigh in.
“They’re simply jamming this down our throats,” said Pallette. “I believe their minds were made up long before they did the outreach.”