Two Newport Beach residents hope to stop the arrival of two large yachts slated to moor temporarily in the open harbor area in front of their homes next month.
When the boat owners independently asked to anchor in the newly dredged waterfront, Newport Beach Harbor Commission members approved their requests as a welcome opportunity to try out a different use for the area on the west end of Lido Island.
But residents fear this may be a first step toward the harbor changing for the worse.
"This is just a trial, they keep assuring us of that," said Pamela Whitesides, who has lived in a waterfront building for about 20 years. "But it's a trial to make it permanent."
She and neighbor Judy Cole intend to work hard on getting the decision rescinded.
Looking out her floor-to-ceiling glass windows onto the calm blue water, Whitesides explained that the decision affects more than just the view from her living room in a condominium complex on the Balboa Peninsula adjacent to Lido Village. Many people use the harbor to kayak, paddleboard, sail and swim.
If the yachts arrive, she said, continued recreational use would become difficult and dangerous.
The owner of one boat, the nearly 130-foot Marama, wishes to anchor for a period of five days to host a small, private wedding, said Harbor Commissioner Brad Avery, who declined to identify the boat's owner.
The second yacht owner, billionaire developer and potential Los Angeles mayoral candidate Rick Caruso, plans to spend 16 days anchored over a two-month period, Avery said. Caruso plans to host a christening party for his new 216-foot vessel, the Invictus, during that time. A representative for Caruso, who developed The Grove shopping center in L.A., declined to comment.
The two boats will not be allowed to moor at the same time.
Residents have until Aug. 28 to lobby council members for an appeal of the commission's approval, which would be heard during the Sept. 10 meeting, said the city's harbor resources manager, Chris Miller.
So far, Whitesides has emailed the council member who represents her district, Michael Henn, and plans to meet with Mayor Keith Curry on Monday, she said.
Whitesides and Cole share concerns that the private yachts will be bright and noisy and emit generator fumes. They worry that the commission's swift decision comes without proper review or input from residents.
"I wish we'd had more information and more time," agreed Karen Rhyne, the only harbor commissioner to dissent in the 5-1 August vote approving the test run.
She learned during the July 10 commission meeting of the first boater's request to park in the harbor. At that meeting, local shipyard manager Dave New told the commissioners that the owner of the Invictus sought to park the boat in Newport Harbor for a week.
Vessels can only be moored or anchored in designated areas, according to the Harbor Code, which is why these boats require special permission. By comparison, commercial charter boats no larger than 130 feet are allowed to float down the harbor, Rhyne said. Those boats, which often host weekend weddings, are not allowed to play music loudly or to stop in the turning basin.
Whitesides and Cole were notified of the plans just days before the commission's next meeting, in mid-August, when the requests of two boat owners would be on the agenda, they said.
"It just doesn't seem right," Cole said. "The commissioners overstepped their bounds. Why do these vessels get the extension of time versus the average visiting boat?"
Still, most harbor commissioners agree that allowing yachts to anchor could aid efforts to make the harbor more accessible.
With its great shopping, restaurants and views, Newport Beach could be a destination for those touring on their yachts, Avery said.
Some visitors may also enjoy stopping to look at the impressive boats.
"We think it's just an opportunity to see how this works, and perhaps in the future we'll find a way to accommodate a large boat every now and then," Avery said.
Much would need to be done to make the harbor suitable for regular mega-yacht stops, said Don Lawenz, who has lived in the area since 1957 and served on the commission in the past.
The harbor lacks a place to pump out holding tanks or hook up to electricity, he said.
The boats would also need to navigate the waterway carefully so as not to scrape the bottom.
"A lot of this stuff, Newport's just not suited for it," Lawenz said.
While a permanent anchorage can only be created with the approval of the City Council or the federal government, the two approved boats can be granted a temporary exception without the involvement of either of those political bodies if no appeal is made, said Miller.
He said he approved a temporary anchorage in the area during the recent harbor dredging.