Don’t Create a SUP Launch Area on the Fuel Dock!

Harbor staff is proposing to build a new, dedicated launch area on the Gas Dock/Fuel Dock near the harbor mouth!  This idea is UNSAFE and most not be approved for the following reasons:

  • The fuel dock is the CLOSEST possible point to the harbor mouth – the area where there is the most boat traffic, boat wake, swell, wind and tacking sailboats.
  • Unskilled, beginning SUP paddlers would be launching from the fuel dock right into this traffic and hazards – the result will be a SUP “yard sale” as the paddlers spill in middle of the channel at the harbor mouth.
  • SUP paddlers launching from the fuel dock will be a navigational hazard, especially for boats utilizing the fuel dock or the boat launch ramp, as well as all channel traffic.
  • This new SUP launch area will create additional parking and traffic demand on the already impacted Crow’s Nest parking lot.  There will be less parking availability for the harbor beach business and patrons.

The harbor has the right idea in creating a dedicated SUP launch dock, so that SUP paddlers never again launch from the Boat Launch ramp area – which never should have been allowed in the first place.  However, any new SUP launch dock should be constructed in the *UPPER* harbor, where boat traffic is significantly less, wind is minimized, and swell is non-existent.

Why the proposed fee and what can I do to protest it?

On Monday, November 5th, the Santa Cruz Harbor unexpectedly posted signs at the free, public hand-launch platforms near dock FF and dock A on the west side of the harbor declaring a $10 launch fee per vehicle would be instituted for all human-powered watercraft (HPW) beginning November 17th.  Human powered watercraft includes kayaks, SUPs, outriggers, and dinghys, among other crafts.

These historically free public, hand-launch docks are utilized by thousands of members of the public each year, launching kayaks, small sailboats, one-man outriggers, stand-up paddleboards and more.  This $10 fee would end free, safe public access to the harbor and to the Monterey Bay via the harbor.


On Tuesday, February 19th, the Harbor announced three proposed changes that they intend to take to the Port Commission on for official adoption on TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 26th.  All these changes were negative for human-powered watercraft, and one is simply unsafe!  The proposals are:

1)  INCREASE OF THE $10 FEE.  The harbor staff is proposing to increase fee from $10 per car including parking, to $10 plus and additional $5 per HPW for 3 or more HWPs.  Previously, this new fee was $10 per vehicle with kayaks, sups or dinghies on or in the vehicle.  Now, they propose to charge more depending on the number of boards/kayaks:  $10 for two, $15 for three, or $20 for four.  So rather than proposing a decrease in the fee, which most were expecting, they increased the fee!

2)  CREATION OF A NEW, UNSAFE LAUNCH AREA.  In order to keep SUP launching strictly within view/sight of the Harbor Office itself, the harbor staff is proposing a new SUP launch area on the “Fuel Dock”.  The fuel dock (or “gas dock”) is by far the closest dock to the mouth of the harbor, where there is more boat traffic, more wind, swell, and is generally unsafe for SUPs.  Therefore, there will be hundreds of “first time” SUP paddlers launching from the Gas Dock every month.  The photo below shows the new SUP launch area the harbor is proposing.  THIS PROPOSED LAUNCH AREA IS THE MOST UNSAFE AREA FOR SUPs IN THE HARBOR.  Any new, dedicated SUP launch area should be in the upper harbor, on the other side of the Murray Street bridge – not the lower harbor / harbor mouth!

SUP launch area

WHAT CAN I DO?  Please join the public users of the Santa Cruz Harbor in politely and civilly protesting these new fees and unsafe proposals.  Here’s how:  TAKE ACTION


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!