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For months, working-class boaters at the county-owned Dana Point Harbor – many of them retired and living on their boats – have been pleading with county supervisors to intervene as they face rent hikes they say are as high as 90 percent.

Yet there’s no sign any Orange County supervisor has taken action to address their concerns, pushing them to examine an option they call the last resort: 

A lawsuit.

Boaters say they’re effectively being evicted from the public harbor because the new rates are wrongfully and illegally hiked based on what boat slips cost in the much wealthier and more amenity-rich Newport Harbor.

Now, with no sign of a change in direction, the boaters say their well-being is being ignored by Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, who represents south county, and the rest of her colleagues on the board.

They put county supervisors on notice about it during public comments on Tuesday, after raising thousands of dollars for the effort.

“You cannot use Newport Harbor to establish rates in Dana Point,” said George Hughes, a 75-year-old, disabled Vietnam War veteran who lives on his boat at the harbor.

“Fair market [rate] is going to be determined by another legal entity. And that is the only recourse we have left — as I have had no responses from this board, despite numerous emails to Lisa Bartlett,” he added.

In a phone interview after the meeting, Hughes said the Dana Point Boaters Association also is raising funds for the legal challenge.

“The intention is to file a lawsuit. As a court of last appeal,” Hughes said. “We’ve exhausted all avenues that we can think of, state and local.”

The county contractor that’s raising the rents – Bellweather Financial Group, part of the developer team Dana Point Harbor Partners – says there’s no basis for legal action over the rent increases.

“The idea of a class action lawsuit is baseless. And it’s consistent with all the other false allegations asserted by the Dana Point Boaters Association,” said Bellweather’s CEO Joe Ueberroth, in a statement the company provided to Voice of OC.

That’s the extent of their comment at this time, the company said.

Bartlett and the other county supervisors said nothing to the boaters who voiced concern at Tuesday’s supervisors’ meeting, other than Vice Chair Doug Chaffee thanking them for speaking and calling on the next speaker.

Boats exit out of the Dana Point Harbor on July 9, 2021. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

California regulators and local stakeholders have been raising concerns over whether the developers tasked with revitalizing the marina truly plan to ensure boating and harbor access to the general public — not just the wealthy.

And local boaters have been raising questions about whether the middle-class nature of the harbor will be cast aside by a new, more upper-end clientele.

As for whether the supervisors have tried to help the boaters who allegedly are being priced out, Hughes said: “Zero is high praise.”

He was one of several boaters who on Tuesday showed up yet again to a supervisors’ meeting to urge them to intervene.

They alleged the method for increasing the rates violates the state Tidelands Act and rules they say require looking at all harbors between Santa Barbara and San Diego – not just OC harbors.

“How would the board approve this lease agreement [to the developers] when they did not comply with the Tidelands Act grant? It’s totally against the guidelines, as very specifically outlined market rates,” said Wayne Addison, who lives on a boat at Dana Point Harbor.

Because of that, Addison said, the new rates are skewed.

“So what we’re faced with is using Newport Beach as a factor in our computation of the rates. It distorts what really should be fair and reasonable for Dana Point Harbor,” he added.

Other Dana Point Harbor boaters also voiced their concern during Tuesday’s OC supervisors meeting.

Another boater, who gave her name as Carrie, questioned how the county could let the developer raise rents so dramatically, when rent hikes on many residential homes are capped at 3 to 5 percent per year.

“I was just wondering why it’s different for the boaters in Dana Point,” she said, to no response from Bartlett or the other supervisors.

§

A boater who gave his name as Paul said the developer is wrongfully hiking the slip rates up to what’s charged in places that offer far more amenities than Dana Point Harbor.

“I’m curious why the methodology has changed on pricing of the slips. For over two decades the county always used Santa Barbara Harbor to San Diego, and now we allow a private purveyor to use Newport Beach and Huntington Harbor – two of the most expensive places that you could find?” he said, adding he’s been a tenant at the harbor for 20 years.

Efforts to get help from their elected representatives on the Board of Supervisors has been fruitless, the boaters said.

“Everybody’s turning a blind eye, and I have no idea why,” Hughes, the disabled Vietnam veteran who lives at the harbor, said at Tuesday’s supervisors’ meeting.

“But after coming here all summer long, and pleading a case with documents and everything else, nothing else has happened from the supervisors.”

The only reaction to his and other comments came from Chaffee, who was presiding over the meeting.

“Thank you,” Chaffee said.

“May we have the next speaker?”

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

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