Why the fee is unsafe and bad public policy for the Harbor

The proposed $10 fee for the free hand-launch ramps is a bad idea and bad public policy for many reasons.  Following are the some of the most crucial reasons:

Safety:  To avoid the $10 fee, many users may choose to instead launch from the beaches on either side of the harbor (Seabright and Twin Lakes beaches).  However, launching from these beaches is not only illegal, but dangerous, as the notorious shore-pound at these beaches will put the public at risk of serious injury.

Safety:  Those that do chose to drive over to the Harbormaster’s Office on the opposite side of the harbor to pay the $10 fee will then go ahead and just launch from the boat launch right there.  Therefore, there will be more boats, kayaks, SUPs, etc, launching from the actual “Boat Ramp” near Leo’s Nautical Treasures – a far busier and more dangerous place to add more hand-launch traffic.

Neighborhood Impact:  Rather than paying the $10 per vehicle launch fee, many hand launch boat/kayak/sup/etc users will instead park in the Seabright neighbohood just outside the harbor parking lot and walk/roll their watercraft down to the hand-launch dock at Dock A near Aldo’s Restaurant.  This will increase harbor user’s parking impact on the Seabright neighborhood.

Public Access:  The hand-launch docks near dock FF and dock A have always been free. To charge a $10 per use fee will eliminate the *only* affordable, safe access point to the harbor and the Monterey Bay.  Launching kayaks, SUPs, outriggers and small boats simply cannot be done safely from the beaches on most days.  These docks are a well used, and treasured public asset.  This fee makes these hand-launch docks irrelevant.

Economic Benefit:  Users of the hand-launch docks regularly spend money at harbor businesses before and after their use of the docks.  Examples would include (but not be limited to): kayak fishers stopping by Leo’s or Bayside Marine for bait, tackle or snacks before heading out to fish, stand up paddlers going for a bite to eat after paddling at one of the harbor restaurants, and small boat race groups hosting large post-race get-togethers at a harbor restaurant.  Users of the hand-launch ramps are also directly exposed to west-harbor businesses including Aldo’s, Stagnaro’s Charters, Pacific Sailing and Yachting, and the Chardonnay II.  In other words, the hand-launch docks simply *bring more people* to the harbor, making the harbor a busier, more relevant economic hub!  The $10 fee will make these docks irrelevant.  Most users will likely either not pay the fee and launch anyway, or launch somewhere less convenient and less safe!

Incorrect Application of Ordinance:  The Santa Cruz Port District (SCPD) ordinance that is stated as the basis for the new fee is SCPD Ordinance Section 406.  The ordinance reads in full as follows:

 Section 406 – Launch Ramp Use
 It shall be unlawful to launch or retrieve from the launch ramp without a valid permit, regular slip licensees excepted.

Clearly, ordinance Section 406 refers only to the launching and retreiving watercraft from the vehicle launch RAMP area on the east side of the harbor, near the Harbormaster’s office.  This ordinance refers to “THE launch ramp”, not the launch docks.  To apply this ordinance to the free hand-launch docks at FF and A is invalid.  The current ordinance imposes a $10 “Car Top” launch fee on watercraft being launched from the launch RAMP area.  Further, SCPD Ordinance Section 405 goes on to further describe that it is illegal to park a vehicle in “THE launch ramp area without a launching permit” – further proving that ordinance Section 406 only applies to the launch RAMP area.

Lack of Public Notice:  The harbor unexpectedly declared the new proposed fee without any outreach to the boating/paddling public and without any form of pubic feedback or forum.  The Port Commission’s Goals (adopted January 2005) include the following adopted goal:

  •   “Provide timely information to the public relating to Port Commission meetings and actions.”

No public notice nor public meeting was announced or held relating to the significant new proposed expansion of the $10 “car top launch ramp fee” which was previously only applicable (though never enforced) at the Day Use Launch Ramp.  To modify the existing ordinance, and expand this fee to new locations beyond the RAMP in the harbor would, by California law, require modification to the SCPD Ordinance.  To modify the SCPD ordinance, the Port Commission must follow the following California State Law:

California Harbors and Navigation Code
  Sections 6290-6311

  6309.2.  Before any ordinance may be adopted, the ordinance shall be published in its entirety on three separate occasions in a newspaper of general circulation published within a district, or if none, in any newspaper of general circulation published in the county in which the district, or a part thereof, is located, together with a notice of the date on which the board will meet for the purpose of adopting the ordinance.  The first publication shall occur at least 20 days prior to the date of such meeting, and the second and third publications shall occur at seven-day intervals.  The general public shall be allowed to appear at the meeting and be heard on the proposed ordinance.  The ordinance shall become effective as provided in Section 9141 of the Elections Code, unless another effective date is set forth by the board.

Please take action to ask the Santa Cruz Port District Commissioners to repeal the staff-proposed new $10 hand-launch dock fee.  Again, the Port Commissioners are good people that work hard at an unpaid task.  They may not be fully aware of the effect of the new fees imposed by staff.  Politely ask them to repeal this fee, or follow the State Law that would require public meetings to modify Santa Cruz Port District Ordinance which imposes a $10 car-top fee at the Launch Ramp to also include the historically free hand-launch docks on the west side of the harbor.

Thank you boaters, paddlers, harbor users and ocean lovers!  Please keep this discussion polite, civil and fact based!  If you participate in this public process, you can retain your free, safe access to the public benefits of the harbor and the Monterey Bay.  Its up to you to act!

13 thoughts on “Why the fee is unsafe and bad public policy for the Harbor

  1. I rarely launch from the harbor, but when I do it’s usually with a group of prone or stand up paddle boarders. We always feed the parking meters adjacent to the hand launch areas. So, we are already paying to park and launch with our car top boards. I really don’t get the $10 fee. Is this in addition to parking?

    And is the $10 fee imposed by the SC Port District reasonable after years of free access? Without public discussion or input? And for all the talking points illustrated in your summary of how this new fee would impact local users? I believe local government can do better than felt tip markers on poster boards to impose unreasonable fees! I’ll choose to stay away like many others. This is unfortunate!

  2. I pay to keep a kayak in the rack in the harbor, but this means anytime a friend wants to come out who was not lucky enough to get a spot they have to pay to launch their boat which means I will use my boat less and use the harbor less since many will choose to not go out at all then.

  3. The “free ramp” was originally set up to handle small boat regattas and was not always in position to launch boats. The ramp became permenant to help with these regattas and also to address an area for small craft to launch on the westside. It has been paid for tenfold over the years by all the users who have honestly paid the meters each and every time they used the ramp.
    I sincerely hope this movement and some help from the SUP groups, the Kayak businesses, the prone paddlers, and the outrigger community can go to the Santa Cruz Port Commission as a unified “Human powered” user group and preserve the ramp as a resource that the community will want to use and and continue to pay for with the payment of the meters.
    The time has come to unite the Human Powered groups into one voice and be heard.

  4. You left one BIG thing out of your “Economic Benefit” paragraph (#6): Parking fees. When I hand launch my kayak, I park my truck in a metered space and FEED THE METER! If I have to pay $10 on top of the parking meter, I’m just going to skip it and go somewhere else and the harbor district loses out on the parking fees.

  5. I launch at FF dock regularly and am more than happy to feed a meter in exchange for easy, flat-water access to the harbor and bay. But ten bucks a visit, PLUS parking fees, would impose a serious burden on my recreation budget. I hope folks turn out for the Santa Cruz Port Commission meeting on the 27th, these guys need some serious public input.
    Not to highjack the message, but it’s ironic that this new fee comes a few short months after the capping of the water spigot at FF. This spigot was enjoyed by paddlers, sailors, kayakers and dog walkers — then capped with no real explanation. While higher prices for less service is pretty common these days, it sucks when it happens at a jewel of a spot like the harbor.

  6. I agree 100% with the this well written and reasoned essay in opposition to the launch fee. As a regular user of the launch dock, I made a routine out of doing a SUP workout, (after feeding the meter,) and then heading over to the Kind Grind or El Palomar Cafe for food and to get some work done. If the fee is imposed, I will simply launch from Cowell’s beach, feed the meters there, and then patronizing one of the many restaurants in that area. I will miss the harbor!! I hope those in power will reconsider the imposition of this ill-conceived fee.

  7. The recently imposed launch fees at the santa cruz harbor raises serious transparency issues on how the harbor conducts itself.

    The harbor is trying to reinterpret ordinance 406 as a means to impose new fees without process and is clearly improper. The commission should make an effort to engage the public in policy matters (as required) and not try to “get away with” making policy changes without public input especially on matters that may be controversial.

    Further, the fees are unreasonable for small human powered “vessels”. With no other safe, legal and affordable (better yet free) public access
    for human powered vessels, this citizen feels that the harbor has violated the spirit of coastal access, too many people, kids, teens, families, simply cannot afford this
    excessive fee, set at a level more akin to a private club, and certainly not reflective of the impact of such use. Please contact the harbor commission and urge them to either eliminate fees for human powered vessels and to work more transparently with the public.

  8. The Santa Cruz Harbor is supported 100% by user fees. It receives NO tax revenue. The $10 fee has actually been in place for decades and has been enforced at the eastside ramp. Some years ago, the Santa Cruz Yacht Club and the Harbor cooperated to install a small ramp on the westside near F dock to facilitate small boat regattas run by the yacht club. The sport of boating has changed, and the advent of SUPs and the popularity of kayaks resulted in those users “discovering” this westside ramp and the one at AA dock and using them to avoid the fee–or perhaps they were not aware of the fee.

    What you are asking is that other harbor users subsidize your use of the harbor. It costs millions of dollars per year to operate the Harbor Patrol (who would come to your rescue in an emergency), the dredge, maintenance and rebuilding of the docks (especially after the tsunami) and myriad other Harbor operations. Rather than complain about the fee, you should realize how lucky you are to have such a wonderful resource available to you. I don’t know anyone with an SUP who cannot afford the $10 launch fee. And compared to the cost of any other recreational activity, $10 is a bargain. I personally pay nearly $500 per month to keep my boat in the harbor and I am not complaining about it.

    Rather than expecting others to foot the bill for you, I invite you instead to join the boating community as full participants. This means paying the fees or helping the Port Commission figure out another way to pay its bills. If you are between the ages of 21 and 35, low-cost membership in the Santa Cruz Yacht Club is available to you as well.

    Kind regards,

    David Emberson
    Commodore, Santa Cruz Yacht Club

  9. Hey bob—i am with you on your assessment of the situation. the harbor staff has neglected to gather the proper information to help make a wise choice about assessing fees. they have also failed to remember all the meter money that has been collected from the hand launchers on the westside over the years.
    i am happy to hear the public getting involved and being heard.

  10. This is a ridiculous staff decision. It should not stand. I can just hear parents speaking to their children: “Kids, this is the ocean, the bay, the beach, and the yacht harbor. We own it. We pay taxes to maintain it. Major users pay to use the launching facilities and to store and maintain their boats here. Even though the Coastal Act was written to guarantee access to the coast for everyone, I have to pay $10 for you to launch your own little paddle board here. Is it the law? No. Is it an illegal staff decision? Yes. Am I paying the fee? What choice do I have? Oh? Petition? Attend a Port Commission meeting? Write a letter? Speak publicly? Use the internet? THANKS KIDS! You ARE paying attention to civics lessons in school.”

  11. how did the fee collection or attempt at it go on 11/17/12? weather was probably a damper on the use.

  12. FYI:

    Dear Mr. Alexiou:

    Thank you for your inquiry. The fee applies to cartop launching of any type of board or vessel and includes parking. The fee and the relevant ordinance (Section 406) are available on our website.

    Regards,

    Lisa Ekers, Port Director
    Santa Cruz Port District
    135 5th Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA 95062
    (831) 475-6161
    http://www.santacruzharbor.org

    John Alexiou 11/14/2012 11:38 AM >>>
    Hi Lisa,

    I’d like to know who will be required to pay the $10 launch fee? I ask because I prone paddle board in the harbor as well as SUP on occasion.

    Does the port district have a proposed ordinance clarifying the language besides the felt tip marker on poster board? I’d like to see the exact language of the who, what, where and when in writing. I have quite a few people asking me to comment on this and I wanted to get some facts first.

    Also, if I come down to FF dock and pay the parking meter, pull off my prone paddleboard or SUP to launch, will I be required to pay the $10 fee in addition to feeding the parking meter?

    Thanks,

    John Alexiou
    jalexiou@aol.com

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