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An effort to reimagine Dana Point Harbor and overhaul its outdated facilities from the 1970s could mean many of the mom-and-pop boaters currently docked there, in the end, won’t be around to see what it looks like. 

That’s because prices are going up.

To keep a boat on the harbor, a smaller boat slip will see as much as a 26% rate increase. A larger boat slip could go up as much as 90% rate, starting Oct. 1.

The decision comes down from the harbor’s redevelopers, who now control the marina after signing a master lease to overhaul the area with county supervisors’ approval in 2018.

The move is sparking concerns about a potential decrease in harbor access for small boaters and the less wealthy general public, in favor of more upscale yachts.

[Read: OC, State Regulators Raise Concerns Over Public Access in Dana Point Harbor Developers’ Plans]

Boaters are waking up to the reality that redevelopment of the harbor means higher dock fees for them. Many are raising questions of whether the middle-class nature of the harbor will be cast aside by a new, more upper-end clientele.

Local boaters, in turn, say the harbor’s redevelopers — a group of three firms coalesced under an LLC known as the Dana Point Harbor Partners (DPHP) — could price them out and force them out of the docks that some people, many of them retirees, have waited years to get into. 

“I waited 19 years to get my slip. My rent is in the mid-$1,400s today. On Oct. 1 it will be in the mid-$2,400s … it’s a 90% increase.”

George Hughes, a 75-year-old, disabled Vietnam War veteran who keeps a live-aboard at the harbor

Hughes said it’s an effort to turn the county-owned harbor into something more akin to the marina in Newport Beach, eight miles north. 

He noted some of his dock neighbors already have their eyes on the door, saying one person he knows “has an application for Cabrillo (a marina in San Pedro). The people in front of me have applications in San Diego.”

Boaters were formally notified about the increases on June 21.

Dana Point Boaters Association (DPBA) President Anne Eubanks said the new rates came as a “shock” to everyone. 

Eubanks said while the developers did communicate their intention to raise rates as early as May, it was never made clear how much, exactly, they would increase by.

“It’s an exorbitant increase, so we’re in the beginning stages of trying to advocate for the boaters,” Eubanks said in a Tuesday phone interview.

That included demanding answers from the elected Orange County Supervisor whose district encompasses the harbor, Lisa Bartlett.

“If the intent was to drive boaters who require affordability out of the harbor to accommodate more wealthy boaters, then the rate increase will certainly do so.”

Dana Point Boaters Association President Anne Eubanks in a letter to Bartlett on June 25

The association’s letter, as well as a response from Bartlett and one of the lead harbor developers, were all later published to the association’s website.

Eubanks’ letter continues: “However, this is inconsistent with the terms of the Dana Point Tidelands Trust in that Dana Point Harbor is intended for public use and recreation for all citizens of California regardless of financial capacity. Not just the wealthy.”

Under developers’ plans for the revitalized marina, there would be a net loss of smaller boat slips and a decrease in lower-cost boating opportunities. 

The harbor’s redevelopment would also increase the amount of space for larger boats. And yacht space will increase from 11 boat slips to 13 slips under the redevelopment project.

Bartlett, in a letter responding to Eubanks, in turn placed the focus on the developers as the ones who set the prices, but appeared to take Dana Point Harbor Partners’ side: 

“The rates being implemented by DPHP are not determined by the County nor the Board of Supervisors and do not appear to violate the Tidelands grant.”

Joe Ueberroth heads up one of the developer LLC’s member firms, Bellwether Financial. 

In his own written response to Eubanks’ concerns, addressed to Bartlett, he dismissed the notion that the rate increase “will drive a mass exodus of boaters from the harbor” in favor of an “unidentified group of wealthy boaters” as something that “will be proved false.”

“In our opinion, the (harbor) continues to be the best value in Orange County. However, even with higher rates, there are so many Orange County residents that are waiting patiently on the waitlists.”

Joe Ueberroth, heads up one of the developer LLC’s member firms, Bellwether Financial, in a written response to Eubank’s concerns

In the formal notice of slip rate increases to boaters, Dana Point Harbor Partners argued that “after the Oct. 1 rate increase, all slip categories will be approximately 35% to 45% below the current Orange County average.”

“Our new rates are significantly below the Orange County average, which is the market in which (the harbor) does business,” Ueberroth additionally wrote in his letter to Bartlett. “Although our market is not all of Southern California, by coincidence, our new rates are actually in line with those averages.”

Eubanks in her letter called that logic “flawed” — “DPHP only took an average of the other Orange County marinas (presumably just the public ones).” 

She continued: 

“Of the public marinas in Orange County, eleven are in Newport Harbor, two in Huntington Harbor, one in Sunset Beach, and one in Dana Point. The marina in Sunset Beach has slightly lower slip rates than Dana Point, of the two in Huntington Harbor, one marina has slightly higher prices than Dana Point, and the other is the same as Dana Point.”

“If you consider slip prices in other public marinas (outside Orange County) such as Long Beach and Alamitos Bay, Oceanside, and San Diego, they all are slightly lower or slightly higher than current Dana Point rates,” Eubanks wrote.

She said “at no time” did the developers “collaborate with the DPBA or allow any input as to the rationale or methodology.” 

“While no boaters like slip increases, most boaters will accept and understand reasonable slip increases. The slip increase notification sent to Dana Point boaters on June 22, 2021, was neither reasonable nor logical,” she added in the letter.

The developers, in their notice to boaters, acknowledged “we will receive a very negative reaction to the rate increase as no explanation or methodology no matter how thoughtful or justified will offset the sticker shock.” 

What developers said they did know, however, “is how the rate increase will actually impact turnover.”

“When we took over operations, there were long waitlists for the larger slips, but we actually had vacancies in the slip categories under 30 feet. As of today, we have waitlists for every category and they are only growing. We even have a waitlist to sublease slips, which are up to 90% more in price than the listed slip rates.”

The Dana Point Harbor Partners in their notice acknowledged that the rate increases may drive boaters out of Dana Point:

“We are hopeful that the advance notice will be helpful in that endeavor.”

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC staff writer and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at bpho@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @photherecord.

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