Gribble Letter to City Council May 2015

Dear Mayor Pro Tem Diane Dixon,

My name is Dan Gribble. I am a local resident since 1959, a marine business owner, an active boater, and a mooring owner. I grew up in Newport Beach, sailing on these waters since I was five years old, and with the exception of a few years off at college and elsewhere, have lived, worked, and played in this area my entire life. I would like to address the matter of mooring transferability, a right which was taken away by the previous Newport Beach City Council several years ago, and which is now being reconsidered.

Everyone in decision making authority on this issue of mooring transferability keeps speaking about fairness. The changes made five years ago regarding transferability violated that concept because it was unfair to change the rules in the middle of the game for all of us who acted in concert with established, and City and County endorsed, policy. If we were talking just a few bucks in fees, that would be one thing. But all of us spent tens of thousands of dollars buying our moorings and it was at the very least unethical for the rules to be changed after the fact.

In my business we operate in alignment with certain core values, two of which pertain to this situation: integrity, which we define as doing the right thing, and trust, doing what you say you are going to do. I believe that once you make a deal, you have to stick with that deal. If we bid a job at $XX, we don’t bill it later for $YY. We live with the deal, even if we later learn that we made a bad deal, even if we lose money. We learn from our error and bid it differently the next time. But we don’t change the deal because that would violate the trust we have established with our customers, and it would also violate any sense of integrity.

The previous Newport Beach City Council, in changing the mooring ordinance to what it is today, changed the deal. In doing so they violated the trust of those whom they were elected to represent, and acted without the Integrity one would expect from elected officials. They acted more like rulers than elected representatives. What they did was simply unfair.

I personally went first to the City and later to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department to learn what the process was to obtain a mooring. I even checked with two Harbor Commissioners and the Manager of Harbor Resources to confirm the process and question whether there was any possibility of losing my investment prior to moving forward. I was assured by everyone with whom I spoke, all people representing our government, that the process had been in place for decades and was not at risk of changing. Based on the rules in place, I spent a significant amount of money to buy my mooring. A few years later, the City Council changed the deal. Not only did their actions significantly erode the value of my investment, but it put the entire investment at risk because there was a possibility that if I did not sell the mooring and transfer it to someone else during a newly prescribed ten-year window, it would revert to the City, a sort of eminent domain proposition. That was never part of the deal I signed up for. That was, by any measure, simply unfair. The new City Council has an opportunity to right that wrong and do what is fair: return the practice of transferability.

I do want to make a point here regarding terminology. I know that many would argue against my use of the terms buy and investment, saying that we only have a right to the lease, and that the use of the word investment implies we intend to make exorbitant private profits off of public assets. I would argue that even though I have acquired a right to lease the mooring, a lease which is provided by a government entity, I did in fact buy my mooring, which is a private asset since it was a private individual who originally planted it in the bay at his own expense. And the fact that the City is willing to pay the lease holder for any abandoned mooring is proof of that fact. This situation is similar to many of the leasehold properties in and around Newport Beach, properties which require the resident to pay a lease for the land (which they do not own) in addition to a cash payment or mortgage for the home sitting on the land (which they do own). To tell that person they do not own their home would be met with argument. The debate should surround the value of that mooring, not the question of ownership.

Secondly, when I decided to buy my mooring, my consideration dealt with the cost of renting a dock slip versus investing in a mooring. It was an economic decision. I was renting a slip at the time and spending money that I would never see again. Alternatively, I could buy a mooring and essentially pre-pay my boat storage for several years, so that later I could sell that mooring, not to make an exorbitant profit, but rather to recoup my investment. I figured it was about a four year breakeven based on my slip rent at the time versus the cost of the mooring. It was essentially the same rent versus buy argument we all consider with housing; pay a landlord, or pay a mortgage and maintain some equity you can later recoup. That was exactly my thought process in this decision and I am positive it is the same logic and reasoning employed by every other mooring owner in Newport Harbor.

At this point, as a result of the actions of the previous City Council, any chance of me making an exorbitant profit on the sale of my mooring, or any other mooring in Newport Harbor, is at best wishful thinking. By most estimates I have lost probably half my investment and even if the current City Council reverses the existing policy and reinstates transferability, it will be many, many years before my mooring’s value will recover to the level of what I originally paid. That said, I am not too concerned about that now, as I am a boater and like 99% of my fellow mooring owners, we have our moorings because we are boaters and want affordable boat storage. I did not buy a mooring to make money on it. I can make money in much easier and safer investments.

On a related note about fairness, in the few years since the previous City Council changed the annual fee structure for the moorings, my annual fee has tripled. I now pay over $3000 per year for my 55’ mooring. This is apart from thousands of dollars in property tax on my boat, in addition to the costs I incur to maintain my mooring tackle, mooring ball, etc. which this past year ran over $800 as I had to replace it all due to age. Contrast that with a friend of mine who has an 80’ dock in Newport Harbor, a dock which holds a 50’ boat, an 18’ boat, a small runabout, and some kayaks and paddleboards. He pays an annual fee that is less than half of what I pay. I appreciate that there may be justification to increase the annual fees for moorings, but somehow that simply does not seem fair. It is the same Tidelands water we are both using. Shouldn’t our cost to use it be equivalent? I am not asking that he be charged more. I am asking that we mooring holders be charged a rate equivalent to what the dock owners have negotiated. It is only fair.

The Newport Beach Harbor Commission, both the previous one and the sitting one, have worked at the direction of the City Council to study these issues to come up with fair and common sense solutions [refers to HC Recommendations of April 2015 -ed.]. The current Harbor Commission, in several town hall meetings over many months, worked collaboratively with the mooring owners, the Newport Mooring Association, and with other concerned citizens in order to craft a revised ordinance concerning the moorings. While I may not agree fully with all their positions on all matters, I will endorse it as a far better solution than what currently exists. I suggest the Newport Beach City Council follow their well-researched, knowledgeable, and well-crafted recommendations; in particular the return to transferability and a reduction of the annual fees to an amount that is fair and justifiable.

In closing, I want to thank the Newport Beach Harbor Commission, as well as the Newport Mooring Association, for all their hard work in tackling these matters, and for listening to the actual stakeholders in all of this, the mooring owners. It was a model of how representative government should be.

Due to business travel, I may be unable to attend the City Council meeting at which this very important matter will be discussed and perhaps decided, hence this letter. It is my hope the Newport Beach City Council will reconsider the actions of the previous Council and do the fair and correct thing, namely, reinstate mooring transferability and reduce the annual mooring fees to something fair and equitable.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of my comments,

Dan Gribble
Local resident, marine businessman, boater, and mooring owner