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By Lillian Boyd
You can’t walk on a dock in Dana Point Harbor without hearing someone talk about the slip rate increases, according to local boater leadership.
On Monday, June 21, tenants of the Dana Point Harbor Marina received notice that there would be slip rate increases—news that many boaters had anticipated but still dreaded.
When Dana Point Harbor Partners took over as lessees for the County of Orange-owned land in October 2018, it was understood that changes would come to both the marina and landside. The push for a revitalization had begun decades ago and an agreement finally came to fruition: The Partners would invest $330 million into the harbor.
“Since our involvement in the revitalization process, slip rates have always been a topic of discussion and real concern for the Dana Point boater community,” the notice to boaters states. “It is no secret that the Marina at Dana Point has been the best deal in the County, especially for the large vessels that it accommodates.”
Come October 1, 2021, boaters won’t be seeing that deal.
In fact, boaters with 55- and 60-foot vessels will be seeing the biggest price increase of about 90% (or a little more than $1,000 more than their current fees). For slip sizes less than 30 feet, tenants will see an increase of about 26%. For the 25-foot vessel, there will be about an additional $90, which the letter likened to two scoops of bait from the local bait barge per month.
For the larger boat slip categories, both Joe Ueberroth and Ralph Grippo of Dana Point Harbor Partners acknowledge there is a “tremendous increase.”
“But it also needs to be acknowledged that most of our vessels are receiving free utilities ranging from a couple hundred dollars a month to over $1,000 a month for some of the large multimillion-dollar yachts,” the notice states.
Ueberroth, a marina developer, founded Bellwether Financial Group, which now guides the marina operations, including the boat slips, boater facilities, dry boat storage, day-boat parking and launch ramp areas. Grippo is a principal with Bellwether, which makes up a component of the Dana Point Harbor Partners and the public-private partnership held with the County of Orange.
A partnership created to redevelop and operate the harbor, Dana Point Harbor Partners is comprised of Bellwether Financial Group, Burnham-Ward Properties and R.D. Olson Development. Under the public-private partnership, the developer will design, fund and build the improvements, then operate the harbor for the duration of the 66-year lease. A Bellwether-owned entity, Bellingham Marine will develop and build the marina, while sister company Bellport will oversee operations.
Per the lease agreement with the county, slip rates need to be at market price. According to Ueberroth, conversations have been ongoing to inform both county officials and representatives of the boater community of the increase in rates and the methodology for calculating “market.”
Ueberroth and Grippo held talks with boater leadership in May and June regarding upcoming increases. But DPBA President Anne Eubanks says no specific numbers were provided, nor was the methodology for their calculations.
“No exact rates were provided,” Ueberroth confirmed. “But we said small slips would be in the 25% range and that there would be a significantly higher increase for larger slips … We have not done this in a vacuum.”
Ueberroth added that the Harbor Partners gave notice to the county prior to the rate increase—and that the Dana Point Boaters Association representatives seem to be a lightning rod for negativity.
“We’ve been communicating in depth. We’ve had the discussions with (DPBA). We’ve communicated in depth with the county,” Ueberroth said. “When we look at our methodology, we ask, ‘What is our market?’ It’s an Orange County-dominated marina, and that’s where our tenants come from. So, we’re going to look at all the marinas in Orange County.”
The Harbor Partners factored in the 14 other marinas within Orange County, all including Huntington Beach and Newport Beach. Despite the rate increase, Dana Point would still be one of the least expensive marinas within the county.
However, Eubanks asserts that the methodology is not compliant with the Dana Point Tidelands Trust and would like to see the county’s Board of Supervisors intervene.
“This shocked everybody in the harbor,” Eubanks said. “I don’t think the average boater here thought there would be slip increases until construction began and you were in your new slip.”
Eubanks acknowledges that conversations were held with the Harbor Partners prior to the increase notice, but there was an expectation that additional information would be provided “well in advance.”
“Dana Point Boaters Association (DPBA), and most boaters in Dana Point, strongly disagree with the very large slip rate increase announced effective October 1, 2021, the rationale used to justify the increase, and the methodology cited for the increase,” Eubanks’ letter to Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett states.
Bartlett, whose district represents Dana Point, played a prominent role in finalizing the lease agreement with the Harbor Partners in 2018.
While the methodology used factors in Orange County marina prices, Eubanks implores the partners to consider marinas throughout Southern California.
“If you consider slip prices in other public marinas such as Long Beach and Alamitos Bay, Oceanside, and San Diego, they all are slightly lower or slightly higher than current Dana Point rates,” the letter to Bartlett states.
In Bartlett’s response to Dana Point Times’ request for comment, she states that the partners are tasked with ensuring the development of a first-class amenity for the enjoyment of all Orange County residents and visitors.
“While the rates being considered are not decided by the Board of Supervisors, I continue to encourage stakeholders to work together on addressing the economic impacts and feasibility any rate changes would have on the tenants of Dana Point Harbor,” Bartlett stated. “I advise all parties to identify an economically savvy way to strike the right balance that maintains competitive rates and long-term sustainability.”
Ueberroth acknowledges that some boaters will be negatively impacted and others will have to look at alternatives, such as finding other marinas, dry storage or even selling—but many boaters are understanding of the cost of business.
“The marina is an incredible facility. The demand is off the charts. In any business, when you’re completely full and you have a 20-year waiting list, it’s obvious you are underpriced,” Ueberroth said. “(Raising rates) is my least favorite part of the job. When you do it, you’re always going to get pushback.”
Eubanks’ name is one of many appearing on the waiting list for a slip in the harbor. For now, she keeps her Jeanneau 44 vessel in San Diego, paying $885 a month. With the increases in Dana Point Harbor, she’d be paying about $1,550. She tells Dana Point Times that the DPBA is awaiting response from county officials, as well as the California Coastal Commission, with hope that perhaps the rate increase will be lowered.
“I’ll keep my boat in San Diego,” she said.
Lillian Boyd Lillian Boyd is the senior editor for Picket Fence Media and city editor for Dana Point Times. She graduated with a degree in journalism from Humboldt State University. Her work experience includes interviewing incarcerated individuals in the Los Angeles County jails, an internship at the Pentagon covering U.S. Army news as well as reporting and anchoring for a local news radio station in Virginia. Follow her on Twitter @Lillianmboyd and follow Dana Point Times at @danapointtimes.