With the City Council poised to vote Tuesday on another round of fee increases for use of the harbor's public tidelands, a group opposing the increases, Stop the Dock Tax, has threatened to boycott Newport's Christmas Boat Parade, an annual tradition that goes back more than a century.
The boycott has escalated already heated rhetoric about the issue at city forums. While residents affected by these increases have labeled them money grabs and unjustly levied taxes, city officials have stressed that the fees are essentially a form of paying rent to use a public asset.
Throughout discussions, many questions have been asked and answered, but several seem to keep coming up. Here are answers to some of them.
Q: Where do things stand now? What will the council be voting on at its next meeting?
A: The council in 2010 tripled mooring fees, and last month, after contentious debate, voted to increase rents for harbor users operating businesses on public tidelands.
Next up are residential pier rents.
After adjourning a special meeting on that matter last week during which council members and residents discussed the proposal at length, the council is slated to vote on the fee increase for residential docks on public tidelands at a special meeting at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
If the council votes to adopt the proposed changes, residential dock owners will pay 52.5 cents per square foot of dockable space, which, for most affected homeowners, will end up costing between $700 and $1,000 per year. Currently, they pay a flat $100 annual permit fee.
Under the most recent proposal, a dock's square footage includes the area of the dock and float itself, plus the waters of an internal slip and up to 10 feet around the structure, excluding the backside of a pier or any undockable portions.
The increases, under the current proposal, will be phased in over five years, to 2017.
Not all residential dock owners will be affected. Some are located along county-administered tidelands or privately owned waterways. City staff will work with individual pier owners to determine their rents and whether their docks are on public waterways.
In general, areas including Dover Shores, Linda Isle, Promontory Bay and Harbor Island will not be affected.
About 970 residential pier owners on the harbor will be affected, staff reports have said. Another 200 or so will not be.
Initially, the proposal had included a provision mandating an insurance policy that would essentially hold the city harmless, potentially forcing homeowners to carry separate insurance policies for their docks. But after a public outcry, the council recognized that as an overstep. City legal staff is working to develop more workable insurance solutions
Council members and residents were split on whether to allow residential pier owners to rent out their docks. It happens now, but it's not legal, according to the municipal code.
Based on a straw poll taken toward the end of last week's meeting, a final proposal will likely allow rentals, but dock owners who do rent their docks out will have to pay a small commercial marina rate, which is about $1.26 per square foot.
Q: Why is the city increasing rents? What gives the city authority to charge rent over harbor waterways in the first place?
A: The city is responsible for administering state-owned public tidelands, which comprise much of Newport Harbor. Those lands were assigned to the city through the state's Beacon Bay Bill in 1978.