A group of Dana Point harbor boaters outraged by slip increases in Dana Point harbor have filed a class action lawsuit against Dana Point Harbor Partners – the developer has undertaken a $ 330 million harbor renovation – and against Orange County , which rents the port for them.
Along with the renovation, which includes a new marina, two new hotels, and renovated dining and shopping areas, comes a rise in slip prices that local boaters call outrageous and unfair. They say it forces people to sell their boats or move them to other marinas. They also said the increase – which in some cases reaches nearly 100% – violates the California Tidelands Grant, which provides for public access to amenities such as the county-owned port.
The grant describes how the port was transferred from state to county and establishes guidelines for its use. It includes guidelines for construction, maintenance, trade and recreational use.
A letter announcing the increase in the slip was sent on June 21 and signed by Joe Ueberroth, founder and chairman of Bellwether Financial Group, the developer of the marina, with work slated to begin construction of the port later this year. The correspondence was sent to 2,400 boat owners who rent slips there.
The increase represents the kind of changes that worried Dana Point boaters when Dana Point Harbor Partners took over from Orange County in October 2018 the 66-year lease to renovate and operate the port.
The class action lawsuit filed by three boaters – identified as N. Pappageorges, D. Groves and AJ Montrella – in Orange County Superior Court on September 22 asks the court to “prohibit the imposition of a massive rate increase slip rate ”, an increase proposal that they say will increase boaters slip rates from 26% to 96%. They also say the increase – which was activated this month – is “largely out of step with the market rate for public marinas in Southern California.”
The lawsuit also seeks damages and alleges that the rate increase violates the county’s own ordinances on how slip increases are to be determined as well as the Tidelands grant under which the county holds trustee title for the people of California. The lawsuit also alleges that the Dana Point Marina – operated by the Newport partner group – holds a monopoly as the only large public marina in Orange County and violated the obligation to treat slip holders “fairly. and reasonable ”.
“The failure of the county and its tenant / operator to recognize the rights of boaters and the public has forced boaters to take this step,” the lawsuit said.
The Dana Point Boaters Association and Save Our Slips, a group of boaters formed against the increases and led by George Hughes, a cruise boater, oppose the rate hike, support the lawsuit and have rallied.
“We have been fighting since June and we cannot get any response,” said Anne Eubanks, chair of the Boating Group. “They keep saying they are in compliance with the tidal law. But they are not in compliance with the Tidelands Act because they deny access to the public. I want to know how they interpret compliance? “
While county officials have said they will not comment on pending litigation, letters sent to the county clarify some of the views of Ueberroth and county officials.
In a September 20 letter to Fifth District Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, Ueberroth defended her position, illustrating how the rate increases were determined and how those increases do not violate the Tidelands grant. He said his team’s market research was extensive and included Orange County marinas and ports throughout Southern California.
“The new fares are at the low end of our market, as we’ve presented to you and county staff,” Ueberroth wrote. “The (Dana Point Harbor Partners) market is located in the coastal marinas of Orange County.”
He also disagreed that the rate hike violates the Tidelands subsidy, calling the claim “baseless”.
“The purpose of the Tidelands grant is to facilitate trade and ensure that revenues are reinvested in the port,” the letter said. And Uebberroth noted that the California Coastal Commission and the State Lands Commission have received complaints from boaters but “have not engaged or disputed” the matter.
“There is no restriction in the Tideland subsidy that restricts the ability to charge market rates,” he wrote.
He added that his team had spoken to most of the 2,400 boat tenants and many of them on the waiting list and that “the response from the tenants has been favorable”.
Bartlett also sent a letter to the Boaters Association on September 21, supporting Ueberroth’s claims.
“The county recognizes that you cannot support the increases in the slip rate, but recognizes that the increases are both consistent with the terms of the Tidelands grant and necessary to support the port’s future revitalization that will benefit all. port users. “
She also added that her staff worked closely with the development group and “verified that the proposed rate increase was in line with market rates, not only for Orange County but for Southern California. “.
Still, Hughes said hundreds of boaters are supporting SOS and its efforts to publicize the issue. Since June 21, he and others have spoken in public comments at supervisory board meetings. In August, SOS held a march in the harbor and recently protested at the Dana Point Chamber of Commerce State of the City event held at the Ocean Institute.
Hughes, a disabled veteran with a 50-foot sailboat, said he was considering an increase from $ 1,400 to $ 2,500. He calls the tariff increase “an absolute injustice” and said he had no choice but to fight it or he would lose his house.
“I can stay as long as I pay $ 2,500 per month,” he said. “I would pay the increase directly with my savings. When I don’t pay the increase, I will have to find another place to live, but there is no port option from San Diego to Santa Barbara. They are trying to get rid of the cruise ships. If I stay here and don’t pay, they’ll seize the boat.
Eubanks said at least 10 people she spoke with either moved their boat to a new marina or sold their boat.
One of them is Tamara Tatich, of San Clemente, who on Thursday, September 30, bid farewell to Pillowtalk, a 33-foot sailboat she has owned for 30 years.
The sailboat first belonged to his parents. She took it back when her parents could no longer use it. In recent years, Tatich has spent hours on board with his girlfriends, enjoying happy hours and sunsets; she has also participated in local yacht club events and made trips to Catalina Island.
Her pace recently increased after the boat was measured and she had to switch to a longer slide. With the tariff increase, she planned to pay $ 910 instead of $ 573 before moving the boat.
“I just can’t do it,” she said. “I am far from being a rich woman. The decision was clear. I had a few months to get rid of it and it sold out in a day. People say it’s the happiest day when you buy or sell a boat, but I cried like a baby.
She said she had considered moving the boat to San Diego and even commuting by train, but Dana Point Harbor has been her home for decades. She learned to sail at the age of 9 and last year was Commodore of the Dana West Yacht Club. This year, she was the club’s racing president. Now she no longer has a boat to run on.
“We assume that people who own a boat are well off,” she said. “There are a lot more seniors and cruise ships. It will have a big impact on them. “