Jergler: Bill could tax some in Huntington Harbour

August 01, 2011|By Don Jergler

A bill to impose fees on the water beneath certain docks in Huntington Harbour is making its way through the Legislature.

The bill is an unnecessary tax that could negatively affect property values in the exclusive neighborhood and cause safety issues, opponents say.

But those pushing the bill say it's about fairness, bringing in line those who don't have to pay rent on the water with their neighbors who do


Senate Bill 152, authored by state Sen. Fran Pavely (D-Agorua Hills), would authorize the State Lands Commission to charge rent for the water space underneath private recreational piers. SB 152 essentially repeals portions of Public Resources Code 6503.5, which provides rent-free use of the water docks that occupy the main and mid channels of Huntington Harbour.

The law would apply only to state lands. It would amend the 1977 public resources code adopted by the Legislature, which found that there is "a substantial public benefit from the construction and maintenance of private recreational piers."

But the bill's proponents say it is arguable whether these benefits have materialized.

"The reality is that these recreational piers and buoys are generally used exclusively by the landowner for private purposes," an analysis in favor of the bill states. "In fact, many of these piers are fenced and can also block access to public areas, such as beaches."

According to the State Lands Commission, most of the rent-free leases are for piers in three areas: Lake Tahoe, the Sacramento River Delta and Huntington Harbour. The bill has passed the Senate and is in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

The bill's backers say there is a fairness issue, because owners of certain docks on state lands do not pay rent, while others do, depending on whether their docks are built on state land that happens to be managed by a local entity, such as the city or county.

Right now, those who don't pay rent are charged only an administrative fee of roughly $100 per year, the cost of preparing the rent-free lease.

Estimates are that about 25% of Huntington Harbour residents will be affected by the new fees.

"Senate Bill 152 resolves a fairness issue," Pavely, who chairs the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee, said in an email. "All owners of private piers built over state lands should be treated equally and in a manner that preserves the public interest in state lands."

SB 152 opponents see the issue differently.

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