Despite threats of Christmas parade boycott, Newport Beach passes dock fee

Dock owners crowded Newport Beach's old city hall, but the dock fee passed 5-1.
Dock owners crowded Newport Beach's old city hall, but the dock fee passed 5-1.

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Despite a threat to the city's popular Christmas boat parade, the Newport Beach City Council last night voted 5-1 to impose a new fee on dock owners.

The vote came after a long and often loud meeting at Newport Beach's old city hall, put back in action because the new city hall wasn't big enough to handle the crowd that showed up to argue against the dock fee.

And even then, the overflow crowd spilled outside the council chambers.

Dock owners call it a "tax" while the city calls it a "fee," a requirement by the state to charge fair market value for the docks.

Either way, it would be huge increase for some dock owners who are now paying a flat $100 fee.

In blunt terms, councilman Rush Hill said the increase is long overdue.

“We’re here in large part because previous councils didn’t want get the kind of sh** you’re giving out,” said Hill.

If you had taken a poll of residents at the meeting, it would likely have yielded a North Korea-like 100-percent opposition to the fee.

But Hill said he and other council members represent all city residents – including the vast majority who aren’t lucky enough to live on the water.

“Those people don’t show up these meetings,” Hill said. "No one comes to testify that they’d like to have the rent raised on fellow citizens. But we are getting those pieces of mail.”

Many dock owners felt the city's colorful, crowd-pleasing Christmas parade was their trump card. It’s a Newport Beach tradition for more than a century and draws visitors from all over.

Last year, Yahoo! named Newport Beach the second-best destination in the country to see holiday lights, behind only New York.

But now, perhaps swayed by the Christmas cheer or maybe just tired of fighting, some dock owners, including Jamie Woodworth, said they won’t follow through with the boycott threat.

“The boat parade has nothing to do with the political agenda of the city council,” said Woodworth. “They are only here for a few years. The boat parade has been here before I was born and it will continue to be here after the city council members are gone.”

Dock owner Pete Pallette was less conciliatory, vowing to keep his lights off during this year's parade.

“Because it wasn’t an idle threat. It wasn’t a hollow threat. It was a promise,” said Pallette.

Council members said until now, all Newport Beach residents have been paying for harbor improvements, something just dock owners will be responsible for now with these new fees.

But Pallette thinks the land dwellers should pay, too.

“The fact is that without this harbor none of their values would be as high as they are today,” said Pallette. "This harbor is what makes this a very special place to live.”

The group that organizes the parade that lights up that harbor starting next week says they’re expecting the usual 80 to 100 boats to take part.

The parade will go. Christmas in Newport Beach will not be ruined.