After more than two hours of passionate pleas and debate from Newport Beach residents, the city council voted Wednesday to postpone its vote on proposed rent hikes affecting 1,200 residential docks. Still, a boycott of the annual Christmas boat parade is still on the horizon because of the proposed increase.
At the special meeting, council members were scheduled to vote on changes to residential dock rents from a flat $100 yearly fee to 52.5 cents per square foot for the year, according to a staff report. Ultimately, the City Council postponed the vote to Dec. 11 in order to make some changes to the proposal including the issue of renting docks, insurance policies and requiring owners to indemnify the city.
"I'm appalled at a tax on a tax," resident Roger Pechuls said. "Where does it stop? Are you going to be taxing every kayak that uses the water? Every paddleboarder?"
"The rush to judgment on this here is really killing me," resident Devon Kelly said. "I think we need to slow the train down. I know you've done a lot of work, but I think, beyond Dec. 11, we need to slow this down and see what we are facing because a lot of people are affected."
According to a staff report, the hikes are rents instead of taxes, and they are needed to establish a fair market charge for the residential piers located over tidelands. The money collected will pay for improvements to the harbor, including dredging, seawall maintenance and marina upkeep.
Some residents could potentially face a rental fee as high as $2,000 annually, city officials said.
"I understand even a few hundred dollars a year for some folks is an important number, I don't mean to minimize that, " Councilman Mike Henn said. "What we are about here is asking participants to pay what is fair for each participant. The total sum of all that doesn't hold a candle, or even come close, to picking up the overall cost of picking up and maintaining the harbor."
Earlier in the week the group Stop the Dock Tax , who distributed signs at the special meeting, asked homeowners lining the route of the annual Christmas boat parade in Newport Harbor to boycott the parade. Many of the group's supporters spoke at the meeting vowing to boycott the parade if the rent hikes get the green light.
"This is an unnecessary money grab and we can’t take it anymore," Bob McCaffrey, the group's chairman, said. "The money we use to decorate our homes will have to be used to pay the new tax.”
Jeff Parker, spokesman for the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce, pleaded with the residents to reconsider the boycott. The boycott would be tragic for residents, visitors and members of the business community, he said.
"It would be disappointing for the event to become a political effort rather than a holiday tradition celebrated by so many," Parker said. "However, boat registrations continue to come in daily, and the Chamber plans on working as it always has to put on the best parade possible for the enjoyment of all."
City spokeswoman Tara Finnigan says the efforts of Stop the Dock Tax are misdirected and unfairly target the annual boat parade.
"We are saddened that a local organization wants to cast a negative light on an event that is very special to our entire community and that’s also important to a number of local businesses," Finnigan said.
Under the current proposal, the fee hikes will be phased in over five years through 2017 as opposed to a previous recommendation to have them phased in through 2015. The rent will apply to the float area, waters of the internal slip and dockable or useable waters around the float.
Properties in the areas of Dover Shores, Linda Isle, Promontory Bay and Harbor Island will not be subject to the rent hikes.