G. Niblock on the L41 TipSUP Noserider. Photo: J. Chandler

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Please Sign the Petition!

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 watercraft beginning November 17th.

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. 

It is also becoming clear that the excessive fee is not just a revenue issue. The high fee is being used to discourage SUPs, kayaks and other hand launchers from using the harbor as a result of a few, undocumented complaints made by some disgruntled harbor users. Don't let the District and the haters take away our harbor access!

At the last Port District meeting Save Harbor Access members presented 568 signatures. But we need another 500 to show them we are here and we're not going away. Please sign the petition if you haven't done so already. And come to the next Port District Commissioners meeting on December 18. 365A Lake Avenue. Santa Cruz CA.

Please join the public users of the Santa Cruz Harbor in politely and civilly protesting these new fees. Here’s how: TAKE ACTION

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Port District Meeting Yields Tentative Success

I attended the Santa Cruz Harbor Port District meeting last night. It was gratifying to be part of a large group of paddlers (kayak and SUP) who were there to protest the (possibly) illegal and certainly outrageously exorbitant and unfair $10 launch fee.

The meeting got off to a dubious start with current chair Dennis Smith demonstrating what appears to be a pattern of disdain for public input by arbitrarily limiting public comment from three minutes (as agendized) to two minutes. The excuse given was the large group of speaker cards submitted to the Commission Secretary, would cause public comments to be too long. In other words, the Commissioners were more interested in getting out of the meeting 15 minutes early, than in hearing from the public in their fully allotted time to speak. For this reason and for the track record of the Commission on this issue, they have not proven themselves worthy of our trust. We therefore cannot relax our efforts in this issue.

At the end of the public comments, a petition was submitted to Board Chairman Smith signed by 568 people who are protesting the unfair car top launching fee.

Send Port District Director Lisa Ekers either a letter or email asking her to notify you regarding further public input re the issue of Car Top Launch Fees. A copy of the email I sent, as well as my comments from last night's meetings are included in this post.

If the Commission fails to act in a fair, responsible, democratic and equitable way by soliciting further public input and directing Port District staff to partner with all stakeholders, we will need to become more aggressive in our actions to achieve our goal of a fair and equitable resolution to this issue.
Email to Director Ekers (

Request for Notification - Car Top Launching Fees
Director Ekers,

I attended the Port Commission meeting last night and it is my understanding that the Commissioners have directed staff to investigate this issue for the purpose of making appropriate changes. It is also my understanding that public input will be solicited.

I would like to be part of that public input process, and to be notified when and how that process will be addressed.

Attached are my comments made during oral communications for the commission's as well as the public record.

Thank you.
My comments during Public Comments

Harbor Hand Launching Fee Issue

My name is Gary Niblock. I am a retired firefighter and an active member of the Stand Up Paddleboard community. I have lived in Santa Cruz since 1973. I am here tonight to address the car top hand launching fee issue.
  • The fee as currently imposed is unfair, has been improperly levied and is possibly illegal for the Westside, lower Harbor. The Ordinances as written, address parking and the eastside launch ramp ONLY. They do not address car top launch fees and they do not address launching locations other than the launch ramp. (FROM THE HARBOR ORDINANCES)
Santa Cruz Harbor Ordinances
Section 405 – Launch Ramp Parking (one sentence)
Section 406 – Launch Ramp Use (one sentence).
Section 412 – Parking Meters (with seven subsections).
Section 413 – Parking Space Indicated
Section 414 – Handicapped Parking

  • Since user fees are the Harbor’s only form of revenue for maintenance etc., a fee from a political entity such as the Port District is in essence a tax. The arbitrary, so called “re-implementation” of the car top launch fee (or tax) could be construed as a classic case of “taxation without representation.” This is an inappropriate action for a government entity like the Port District to take without public hearings and review.
  • According to the Port Director, the fee was not collected for 18 months while the District addressed “tsunami damage” before it was then arbitrarily “re-implemented”. But I have been hand launching from F and FF dock for many years and have never been charged a launching fee. Additionally, within the last five years an entirely new community of users started using the Harbor for paddling and can testify that they have never paid a hand launching fee. Parking fees, yes. Hand launching fee, especially at F & FF docks, NO. Therefore the fee was not “re-implemented” it was imposed. The Districts management of this issue, i.e. the shockingly sudden imposition of the excessive and controversial fee with almost no warning, (which unfairly targets a specific minority user group) reminds me of the way PG&E handled the Smartmeter issue. If you wanted to strike the wrong note in the paddling community, you’ve succeeded. The District needs to stop its current practice, stop collecting the fee, and provide public input to address the issue of car top launching fees in a fair, equitable and democratic way for all stakeholders.
To be clear, there are three things that need to happen tonight:
  • 1) Immediate suspension of Westside lower harbor “car top” hand launch fee collection. 
  • 2) A commitment to acknowledge and partner with all stakeholders regarding the creation of a new or revised ordinance that addresses car top hand launching at the eastside launch ramp and at the Westside lower harbor public access docks. 
  • 3) A commitment to acknowledge and partner with all stakeholders on the fee structure to include one-time fees; annual passes; family passes; business fees, etc. that are fair and equitable for all stakeholders. 
Thank you.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

SUP Launching Fees To Be Implemented At The Harbor

The following are a series of emails between me and Port Director Lisa Ekers. I will continue to publish them here as a resource for any of you who want to weigh in on this issue by corresponding with the Harbor District.

Tuesday November 13, 2011
Dear Harbor Master Izenstark and Port Commissioners,
I am writing to ask you to repeal the proposed $10 hand-launch fee for access at the free public launch docks near Dock FF and Dock A. Harbor staff recently posted signage stating that the new fee would take effect 11/17/12.
This fee is bad for the local economy, the harbor, local businesses, and the boating and paddling public that utilize these free docks.  In addition the fee was improperly implemented without public knowledge or hearing, unfairly discriminates against the (small) recreational vessel community, and will not solve the “traffic” issues in the harbor it is attempting to address.  Negative consequences of the proposed fee include:
  • Safety:  the fee eliminates Santa Cruz’s only safe access to the Monterey bay that is not a perilous “beach launch”.
  • Safety:  those who go to the Harbormasters Office to pay the fee, will simply go ahead and launch from there – increasing the number of dinghies, kayaks and SUPs launching from the actual boat ramp area – a busier and more dangerous area that does not need more hand-launch traffic
  • Public Recreational Access:  The fee would eliminate the only free, safe public access to the harbor’s waters and the Monterey Bay beyond.  Frequent users that include retirees and low-income boaters and paddlers would no longer be able to afford safe access to the harbor and Bay.
  • Economic Impact:  Users of the hand-launch docks regularly patronize harbor businesses before and after their access to the harbor.  This benefits the harbor and its businesses.  Those patrons would be drastically reduced as would their economic benefit.
  • Neighborhood Impact:  Rather than paying a $10 per vehicle launch fee, many boaters/paddlers will park in the Seabright neighborhood then carry/roll their watercraft down to the hand-launch dock near Dock A.  This will significantly increase the harbor’s parking burden on the surrounding neighborhood.
  • Lack of Public Notice:  There was no public notice or public outreach regarding this new fee – a major public policy decision with a significant impact to the harbor’s users.  The Port Commission’s goals include the following goal: “Provide timely information to the public relating to Port Commission meetings and actions”.
The Santa Cruz Harbor, its employees and Port Commissioners have for many years, with great dedication and time served the community well. But this is a step in the wrong direction.  I ask that you consider the fee’s negative effects on a huge segment of harbor users and repeal it altogether, or table the fee until such time as a public meeting can be  held to discuss the fee.
Thank you,

Response from Port Director Lisa Ekers, Tuesday November 13, 2012
Dear Mr. Niblock:

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I want to address a few of the
points you raised so that you'll have an appreciation for the District's
costs and revenue sources, as well as to dispel any misconceptions about
public processes observed by the Port District.

The Port District is entirely self-supported by user fees. We receive
no tax revenues from any sources. The costs of providing, maintaining
and managing both waterside and landside facilities is entirely borne by
harbor users. Parking fees pay for maintenance of the harbor's parking
infrastructure and labor for managing parking. Slip rents pay for
maintenance, management and utility service to docks, concession rents
pay for building maintenance and utilities, and launch fees pay for
launch ramps, docks, jet float, etc. In addition, revenues derived from
user fees pay for harbor security and safety staff, patrol boats and
vehicles. The burden of providing all the facilities and staff to
operate them must be shared by all the various users who enjoy them in
order to be fair.

The Port District long ago established a fee ($10) for hand ("car top")
launching of small vessels such as SUPs, kayaks and sailing dinghies.
Revenues derived from that fee contribute to maintenance of the launch
ramps, jet float, restrooms, rinse water used by launchers, and other
demands placed on infrastructure and staff resources. The courtesy
notices were posted to make hand launchers aware that the existing fee
will be in force starting November 17 and to allow them time to adjust.

We understand there are impacts of collecting the existing fee, and are
in the process of determining whether an annual permit would be
appropriate, or if there is another rate structure that would work well
for hand launchers. The existing fee will be in effect in the interim.

Thank you again for contacting us. Your letter will be included as part
of the Port Commission's packet.


Lisa Ekers, Port Director
Santa Cruz Port District
135 5th Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA 95062
(831) 475-6161

Counter response from me on Tuesday November 13, 2012
Dear Director Ekers,

Thank you for your prompt reply to my concerns.

Since you state that the "existing" fee is now going to be enforced, and in light of the Harbors fiscal needs, why has the fee not been enforced, for how long has it not been enforced and why is it being enforced now? While I can understand the necessity for, and limits of the harbors funding resources you listed, it seems odd that these small vessel (hand launchers) launching fees were not being collected all along. And now, with no real public notice, or chance to possibly restructure the fees or provide for an annual fee, the old fees are somewhat arbitrarily being enforced or re-implemented.

Further, in regard to your intention to consider a one time annual fee, you presented no real plan or timeline to discuss much less implement such an annual fee. Therefore that idea, as presented by you, with all due respect seems disingenuous to me. If nothing is on the agenda, then that's what will get done...nothing.

As part of the stand up paddling community I know that several existing businesses that provide sales of equipment and SUP lessons will be negatively impacted by the fees thus causing an economic hardship in the local business community. One of the most adverse trickle down results of limiting use of the harbor to stand up paddlers will be the real lack of a safe haven for novices as well as the more skilled paddlers. This will either force people out of the market or push them into more dangerous locales.

Perhaps it is useless to argue for no fees, or even drastically reduced fees. The Harbors position, stated by you, is one of passing along the cost to the consumer. But you must know that a difficult economy such as we have experienced for the last four years and which we will continue to experience for some unknown time into the future, is shared perhaps more acutely by the less economically fortunate than the Harbor as a corporate entity.

Therefore I urge you to prioritize this issue by setting real dates for real public hearings, and to do it soon. You could also consider ways to help the consumer by looking at reduced fees for seniors; family fees whereby a family could purchase a reduced rate annual pass or one time use fee; a business fee whereby a company in the business of selling hand launcher small vessels, and/or providing lessons could purchase a discounted pass; off hour, low use passes (low impact use hours could be ascertained and reduced fees could be allowed for those times). These are only a few ideas and I'm sure that the community at large could be used as an excellent resource to brain storm even more ideas that would benefit the Harbor District and the harbor user equally and fairly.

When I first moved to Santa Cruz in 1973 my wife and I lived right across the street from the District office on 5th Avenue. Over the years we've seen the harbor grow and adapt to many circumstances, events and issues, perhaps none more trying than the tsunami you and the District employees responded to last year. I think everyone gives you and your team very high marks for your performance and service and we would give you our heartfelt thanks for a difficult job well done. I think the issue of hand launcher fees is not nearly as difficult as those you have solved in the past and I trust that you and the Commissioners will address this in a timely manner and fairly to all the many harbor users who will be affected.

Thank you,
Gary Niblock

Response from Port Director Ekers on Thursday November 15, 2012.
Dear Mr. Niblock:

As described in my earlier email, the Port District is public agency
but receives no tax revenues and is entirely supported by user fees. It
is true that launch fees have not been consistently enforced on the west
side in the recent past (they have been on the east side and launching
is not allowed in the north harbor). District staff has, by necessity,
been focused on tsunami recovery over the past 18 months. During that
time, a growing number of west side launchers has been able to enjoy the
harbor without sharing in the cost of the facilities and services they
have used.

The Port District's car top launch fee was enacted in the early 1980's.
The fee allows launchers to park in metered spaces (i.e. not in permit
parking spaces). Both the existing fee and the launching ordinance
(enacted 1974) were adopted through a public process.

There is an annual fee for cartop launching in the current fee schedule
($137.50 daily, $87.50 for Monday through Friday excluding holidays).
The annual program ends each year on December 31, with a new permit
required January 1. We are making the annual permit available at a
prorated cost to cartop launchers who wish to purchase one. We are also
evaluating the current fee structure, considering stakeholder input and
planning for a discussion item with the Port Commission at an upcoming
meeting. You may wish to sign up to receive Port Commission agendas
automatically, or you can view them online on our website to see when
this item will be discussed.

Thank you for your ideas and suggestions, and for your kind remarks
about the Port District's staff. Please feel free to share this
information via your website.


Lisa Ekers, Port Director
Santa Cruz Port District
135 5th Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA 95062
(831) 475-6161

My response back on Thursday November 15, 2012
Director Ekers,

Thank you again for your prompt and informative reply.

I will post your email on my website as many people are interested in this topic. I will also sign up for the agendas and I look forward to discussing this issue with you, staff, the commissioners and the stakeholders in what I hope will be the very near future.

Gary Niblock

Santa Cruz Harbor Port Commission Meeting Information Page (Click here.) 

Any member of the public can bring forward a discussion item during the "Oral Communications" portion of the meeting. I wasn't able to find the request page for receiving meeting agendas automatically. The next meeting is on Tuesday November 27 at 7PM. Harbor Public Meeting Room 365A Lake Avenue.