Coastal Commission tells O.C. Harbor Patrol to return Newport docks to public use

by in News

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department Harbor Patrol has shut down some public docking areas at its Newport Harbor headquarters despite being required to maintain them by state Coastal Act permits.

The state Coastal Commission has responded with a letter calling on the Harbor Patrol to restore access to those areas, remove “Keep out” signs and extend the period that dinghies are allowed to tie up at docks.

However, the commission and the Harbor Patrol are in talks about a remedy that could result in a different public-access configuration, according to Andrew Willis, the commission’s enforcement supervisor for Southern California.

“It’s an opportunity to look at how best to provide public access,” Willis said. “We also have to make sure the sheriff and Coast Guard have the space they need.”

A guiding principle of the Coastal Act is ensure public access to coastal beaches and waterways. Those provisions were applied to permits for the Harbor Patrol headquarters, which is located at 1901 Bayside Drive just south of the Balboa Yacht Club.

“There’s a finite number of public docks in Newport Harbor, so it’s very important to maintain this public access,” said commission Enforcement Officer Jordan Sanchez.

The commission’s letter, dated May 20, details where the Harbor Patrol has fallen out of compliance with its coastal permits. They include:

  • Two of the five public dock slips required by the permits have been converted to use by emergency personnel. The public slips rent for $40 a day and are often used by boats traveling the coast who need a safe harbor for the night. Harbor Patrol Lt. Chris Corn, harbormaster for the Sheriff’s Department, said the slips were converted to provide berths for new boats brought to the area by local and state lifeguards.
  • A visitor loading dock, where the public could pickup and unload passengers, has been put off-limits to the public and is now used exclusively by emergency personnel. Corn said a security assessment in the wake of the 2017 San Bernadino mass shooting determined the public dock made the adjacent Harbor Patrol building vulnerable to attack.
  • A dinghy docking area is supposed to allow a 72-hour stay, according the commission. The area is used by people mooring their boats in the harbor. Corn said that was reduced to 20 minutes to prevent people from monopolizing the area, which is often full of dinghies.
  • Signs saying “Keep out” and “Authorized Personnel Only” have been posted at the public dock slips and the entrance to those areas.

Corn said he would be meeting with commission officials in the next two weeks to give them a tour of the area. He declined to say whether he would be trying to keep the two slips and the loading dock off limits to the public.

“I should probably not comment on that until I talk to the Coastal Commission,” he said.

Beside the two slips in question, emergency personnel have 13 dedicated slips.