Correctly anticipating a long string of heated public comments at its special meeting Wednesday night, the Newport Beach City Council opted to hold off on voting to increase rents for residential docks located on public tidelands.
Several hundred residents, some with "Stop the Dock Tax" signs in tow, packed into the council's Newport Boulevard chambers to decry various facets of the proposal, which would increase rents on for the piers from a flat $100 permit fee per year to 52.5 cents per square foot per year. According to staff reports showing examples, that amount typically tallies up to somewhere between $700 and $1,000 per year.
City Manager Dave Kiff briefly recapped the progression of rent increases for various harbor users, including commercial marina operators and fuel docks, as part of an effort to comply with state law requiring the city to charge fair market rents for the use of state-owned tidelands.
Kiff again stressed that not all residential piers would be subject to the increases because some are located on private waterways or county tidelands. He and other council members also reiterated that funds raised by the increases would be used for much-needed harbor infrastructure improvements.
During the public comment period, the somewhat raucous audience applauded and cheered as speakers criticized the proposed increases as money grabs by the city. Some speakers raised concerns that retired homeowners on fixed incomes would not be able to shoulder the increases, and some claimed that the extra rent would bring down property values.
Residents were divided on whether the city, as proposed, should change the municipal code to allow residential pier owners to rent out their space.
Other speakers bridled against a proposed permit clause that would explicitly require affected homeowners to carry insurance that would hold the city harmless.
The council largely agreed that requirement was an overstep and that the city's legal staff should work toward a more feasible way of dealing with insurance.
Kristine Thagard, who spoke on behalf of the Newport Beach Dock Owners' Association, encouraged the council to take more time to consider the city's options. A threatened boycott of Newport's annual Christmas Boat Parade, which the Stop the Dock Tax group announced on Tuesday, is "all we can do to get this things slowed down," she said.
"With due diligence, I think we can come up with something that works for everyone," she said. "The problem is when we rush to judgment."
The meeting was adjourned until 4 p.m. Dec. 11, when the council will convene at its new chambers near Newport Center to consider a revised proposal based on some of Wednesday night's comments. Mayor Nancy Gardner encouraged residents to continue emailing or contacting council members in the meantime.
"We'll keep making improvements," she said.