By Jill Cowan
12:14 PM PST, January 23, 2013
In closed session, the Newport Beach City Council rejected claims that it had violated open-meeting laws when it increased residential dock fees late last year.
And later in Tuesday night's meeting, the council effectively closed the book on the issue when it adopted a handful of follow-up measures to implement the rent changes.
With only Councilwoman Leslie Daigle dissenting, and Councilman Ed Selich recusing himself from the discussion, the group voted to change municipal code to allow residential pier owners to rent out their docks; delete the existing flat $100 inspection fee to make way for the new rent structures; and establish an appeals process for pier owners who disagree with the city's calculation of their new rents.
The vote also created a $100 appeal fee for those piers, Assistant City Attorney Michael Torres said.
Daigle was also the lone dissenting vote against the increases in December, when the council made to charge residential pier owners on public tidelands rent based on the size of a homeowner's dock.
Though in the closed-session vote the council voted to shoot down claims made by a lawyer representing the Stop the Dock Tax group, no one from the group spoke out against the final vote.
That was in stark contrast with last year's meetings on the harbor use fee increases, when angry dock owners flooded council chambers to voice their concerns.
Just two residents protested the decision Tuesday night, saying that allowing the rental of residential piers would negatively impact harborside neighborhoods.
Bonnie McClellan told the council she was concerned about the potential for additional water pollution, trash and "people wandering around looking into your house" near rented piers.
"I have lived on the water in Newport Beach since 1976 and that entire time until now the city and the homeowners and dock owners have been violently opposed to people renting out their docks," she wrote in an email to the council and to the Daily Pilot. "What changed this?"
Councilwoman Nancy Gardner and Mayor Pro Tem Rush Hill briefly reconsidered that aspect of the changes but ultimately voted to allow the rentals after Councilman Mike Henn said it was a property rights issue.
Mayor Keith Curry concurred.
"I think it's fundamentally unfair for us to adjust these rents and for people not to have full use of their property," he said. "I don't think we're going to have access issues."
In other business, the council moved to change the city's approach to prevailing wages on local public works contracts.
As a charter city, Newport Beach can opt out of state requirements that workers on public works projects be paid a prevailing wage.
The requirement often means that cities pay more for stringently vetted workers who have completed more thorough training for complex construction jobs.
City staff said not requiring prevailing wage for things like landscape and building maintenance — theoretically less sophisticated construction projects — could save money.
But local contractors and union representatives spoke against the proposed change, saying that not requiring prevailing wage invites problems, like shoddy work that may have to be redone on the city's dime.
Previously, the city's rules effectively defaulted to requiring that workers on any public works projects be paid prevailing wages. Now, the council can choose to require prevailing wage on certain projects, if they're deemed to be complex enough.
The council voted unanimously to make the change.
The council also voted to extend the city's pledge to match 3-1 contributions to the city's Bike Safety Improvement Fund.
The matching pledge was scheduled to end with last year, but now local bike safety activists have until March 31 to max out the pledge by raising $150,000, which would trigger a city contribution of $450,000 to the fund.