LONG BEACH — An association of boat owners has filed a claim that accuses the city of nautical rent gouging.
Boat-slip fees are unfairly high in the city's municipal marinas, the Long Beach Marina Boat Owners Assn. charges in the claim, saying the city is using the money to bail out an ailing fund that supports such items as beach cleaning and upkeep of the Belmont swimming pool.
"We want an explanation for where all this money is going," said Aaron Waxman, who chairs a committee within the 2,000-member association that is looking into the funding issue.
The claim asks the city to conduct an independent audit of its marine funds. It also demands that the city stop using fees paid by boaters for anything other than paying off bonds and making improvements directly related to boating. The city rents about 4,000 slips downtown and in Alamitos Bay.
The City Council has approved an increase of 4% in boat-slip fees in the coming fiscal year, the same as the increase this year. The monthly fee for a 30-foot boat, for example, will increase from $7.07 per foot to $7.36 per foot, starting July 1. The average slip fee for public and private marinas in Southern California is $8.10 per foot, city officials said.
Some public-interest groups, such as Long Beach Area Citizens Involved, have advocated raising slip fees to the highest level that the market will bear.
Waxman acknowledged that Long Beach charges lower slip fees than many privately owned marinas in the area. He said, however, that the city has slapped boaters with double-digit increases in slip fees in previous years. He contends that the city must consider whether slip fees are generating enough revenues to cover costs, rather than basing fees on what the market will allow.
Waxman, a marine engineer and owner of a 26-foot sailboat, said marina tenants are asking that slip fees be put to uses that will benefit them.
"We want dry storage, better ramps and more slips," he said.
Marine Bureau Director Richard Miller said the city believes it is legally entitled to combine marina and beach funds. "The thing is legitimate and legally we can do this," he said.
Long Beach is the only city in Los Angeles County that operates its own beachfront services, such as providing lifeguards and cleaning beaches. While other cities contract with the county, Long Beach has used its portion of tidelands oil revenue to pay for the service.
But under a formula established by the state years ago, Long Beach's share of tidelands oil revenue has decreased over the years to the point where the city began receiving a flat $1 million a year in the current fiscal year.
Costs of beach-related activities are $8 million a year, of which $2 million is covered by concession leases and other revenues. That leaves an annual deficit of $6 million that the city will have to find a way to cover, Miller said.
So far, city officials have been relying on a surplus in the beach fund. But city financial officials say the surplus is expected to decline from $20.7 million in the 1987 fiscal year to $6 million in the next fiscal year. By contrast, the marina fund is expected to generate a surplus of $400,000 this year. Revenues are estimated at $15.9 million, with slip-fee revenues generating $11.5 million of that amount. Expenditures are expected to reach $15.5 million.