Dock fee opponents sue city
Newport Beach counsel dismisses allegations that subcommittee violated open-meetings laws.
By Lauren Williams
Newport Beach residents opposed to fee increases on residential docks that span public waters said Tuesday that they made good on their pledge to sue the city.
Stop the Dock Tax and the Newport Beach Dock Owners Assn. alleged in a statement that small-group discussions by City Council members assigned to a working group examining harbor fees were not legally noticed or conducted in public. The group said it filed suit in Orange County Superior Court, however, a copy of the complaint could not be immediately reviewed.
The state’s opening-meetings law, the Ralph M. Brown Act, requires that elected officials conduct a majority of government business in public sessions that are noticed in advance. Those small committee meetings, the group alleges in a statement prepared by attorney and state Republican Party Vice Chairman Steve Baric, were improper.
“We expect behavior like this in Castro’s Cuba or the city of Bell, not in Newport Beach,” Stop the Dock Tax Chairman Bob McCaffrey said in a prepared statement.
McCaffrey said in a follow-up interview that a rate increase from a $100 annual flat fee to 52.5 cents per square foot is “nothing more than a money grab by the city of Newport Beach.”
“We’ll see if we have a judge look at the situation instead of just four votes on the City Council,” he said. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
Newport Beach A
ssistant City Attorney Michael Torres said that because the committee was made up of three of the seven council members — just shy of a quorum — the meetings did not fall under open meetings laws.
“The truth is we did not violate the Brown Act,” he said.
Council members Nancy Gardner, Steve Rosansky and Mike Henn served on the committee, and all official actions complied with the open-meetings law, Torres said.
The city dubbed the committee an “ad hoc working group,” but the dock tax group claims that the name change didn’t exempt it from public disclosure.
On Feb. 8 the city responded to the alleged violations, saying in part the group was not created by formal action of the council.
Some dock tax opponents boycotted the annual boat parade along the harbor and declined to decorate or light up their homes.