A Newport Beach ordinance that went into effect Thursday to keep jet skiers away from swimmers and surfers has all but barred the sport from the city's waters, enthusiasts said.
Jet skiers have rarely zipped out to the ocean from Newport Beach since the ordinance was passed by the City Council last month, lifeguards said.
"They haven't been here for weeks," said Capt. Ron Johnson of Newport Beach's Marine Department. "They've gone someplace else."
According to the ordinance, jet ski operators cannot launch from the beach. Launchings are allowed only from the Newport Dunes area, which is north of the lower bay. Until they reach the ocean, jet skiers must limit their speed to 5 m.p.h, making the average time to reach the waves about 40 minutes, jet skiers said.
Violation of the ordinance is a misdemeanor, said David Harshbarger, director of Newport Beach's Marine Department.
Seal Beach, Laguna Beach, and Long Beach have similar jet ski restrictions.
Designed to Prevent Injuries
Although Newport Beach has had no reports of swimmers or surfers injured by jet skis, which resemble snowmobiles and can move at about 30 m.p.h., council members and marine officials said the ordinance will prevent any injuries.
But jet ski supporters said the ordinance is much too strict and limits their ocean access.
"It's biased and unfair," said Gene Kraus, a Newport Beach resident and a jet ski enthusiast. "The water is for all of us, not for a selected few."
Because of the law, Kraus said, he cannot launch his jet ski from his oceanfront home. Instead, he must drive to Newport Dunes, then go through the bay at 5 m.p.h. to reach the ocean, and then have just five or 10 minutes before he must return or run out of gas.
Jet ski people said they will go somewhere else.
"Why would anybody want to jet ski in Newport Beach anymore?" asked Brent Barnes, the owner of Costa Mesa-based Jet Sports. "This cuts it for Newport. Nobody wants to spend all that time getting to the ocean and then running out of gas."
Steve Stricklin, a national jet ski champion from Downey, said the ordinance penalizes operators who have obeyed state law prohibiting jet skiers from going within 200 feet of a swimmer at speeds above 5 m.p.h.
"We're getting shut down from more and more places," he said. "There's hardly enough places in Southern California where you can launch off and go straight to the ocean."
Although jet skis have been around for several years, the sport is still considered relatively new, said Catherine Martin, spokeswoman for Irvine-based Kawasaki Motors Corp. USA and for the International Jet Ski Boating Assn.
"People are not familiar with it, and the immediate reaction is to ban it," Martin said.
Orange County Sheriff's Lt. Dave Milewski said jet skiers are turning to other waters, including Dana Point, where the launch point is about five minutes from the ocean.
However, Milewski said, local residents there have been complaining about the noise from jet skis.