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
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!