January 9, 2012 Photo: J. Chandler

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.

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