The waters in Newport Harbor are bubbling with the Newport Beach City Council's desire to raise the rates for a tideland fee for commercial operations, which you can expect will be expanded to the residential properties.
Officials say the increase will bring the fee to fair market value, but how do we determine the true value?
The fees are really intended to cover the cost of city-provided services. What will the lessee receive in benefits or value for the raised fees? Nothing! They will still have to maintain the seawalls, docks, upland facilities, parking, dredging, eel-grass mitigation and so on. In other harbors, the fees pay for most if not all of these items and maintenance.
To some, this fee smells more like a tax, which should be subject to a vote of the people. But if the fee is included in the lease, the city can slide around a required vote.
Some letter writers to area newspapers say that the commercial property owners can afford the increase. But that increase will be passed onto customers — meaning you and me.
This notion that all boaters are wealthy, cigar-smoking capitalists with multimillion-dollar yachts who can afford any trickle-down increases in their slip fees is false.
The majority of boaters are not wealthy; rather, they are middle-class, hard-working people who use boating for family recreation and fishing. The average boat size is less than 26 feet with an outboard engine. These boaters will be hit the hardest. This will decrease the number of days they can afford to go boating or simply push boating out of the family budget.
More than 9,000 boats hail Newport Harbor as home port. Most are small, and about a dozen are megayachts longer than 100 feet.
I have said in the past that boating generates huge dollars for the local economy. I wonder if the fee increase will hurt Newport's economy and tax base more than the additional revenue will help because people might not be able to afford stepping aboard their boat, a rented Duffy or a charter boat. That would fall under the law of unintended consequences.
Everyone should look at other harbors that have recognized the value of boating by revitalizing amenities with new docks, new launch ramps, waterfront walkways and increased public access. Most importantly, many waterfront communities are decreasing fees and trying to attract boaters.
Dana Point has plans in the works to revitalize its county-owned harbor. The ongoing fight to finalize plans reminds me of Newport's Marina Park project. However, I digress.
The recreational boater is an easy target for imposing new or higher taxes simply because during the week they are too busy making a living and raising their families to watch out for their boating interests. Gov. Jerry Brown just imposed a boating registration fee increase that will not help any boaters in salt water or who do not travel out of state to a lake. (You can read more about it in last week's column.)
If you still wonder how high fees and taxes have an effect on boating, ask Sen. John Kerry, who berthed his new $7-million, 75-foot yacht in Rhode Island and not in his home state of Massachusetts. He would have saved almost $500,000 on sales tax, but he finally paid the sales tax to Massachusetts when he caved under the public pressure. But, there is more to the story, as keeping the yacht in Rhode Island would save him about $70,000 per year by avoiding Massachusetts' annual excise tax.
Therefore by this simple move, the marine and ancillary businesses in Massachusetts lose, and Rhode Island wins economically, regardless of your political views about Kerry.
Any slip-rate increase will make boating more and more expensive, and help, for example, the RV industry, where I meet many former boat owners who now camp for recreation. We need to keep boating affordable so the next generation can enjoy the pleasure of it.
The marina lease plan has been postponed until 6 p.m. Oct. 23 in the City Council Chambers, 3300 Newport Blvd., Newport Beach. For more information, visit http://www.newportbeachca.gov.
And don't forget: Tune in to the No. 1 boating radio talk show in the nation, Capt. Mike Whitehead's "Boathouse Radio Show," broadcasting coast-to-coast on the CRN Digital Talk Radio syndicated network at noon Saturdays and replayed at 10 a.m. Sundays.
MIKE WHITEHEAD is a boating columnist for the Daily Pilot. Send marine-related thoughts and story suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org or go to http://www.boathousetv.com.