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Long Boat, Short Tempers on Balboa

Waterfront: Where can a homeowner dock his 50-foot luxury craft? Not here, say his neighbors.

June 16, 2001|SCOTT MARTELLE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Here on Newport Beach's Balboa Island, home to the merely rich and the really rich, there are boats, and then there are boats.

Pam Sigband has a boat, a little 18-foot battery-powered skiff that floats like an afterthought at the end of the 100-foot pier outside her South Bay Front house.

But Lodwrick M. Cook, former head of Arco and current co-chairman of the Global Crossing telecommunications firm, has bought a boat.

At 50 1/2 feet long and more than 20 feet high, Cook's gleaming white Ocean Alexander 510 Classico Pilothouse looks like a cross between a limousine and a floating tour bus. He wants to dock it in front of two beach-side houses he owns.

Neighbors, though, fear that when Cook's ship comes in, it will block public views of the picturesque bay, create safety problems for swimmers on a public beach and potentially interfere with navigation.

Not to mention, of course, that they don't want to look at the thing, currently being outfitted at a nearby marina.

"It makes almost a private beach for them," said Barbara White, who has lived on Balboa Island for 40 years. "No one wants to sit on a beach and look at their boat."

Cook's son, Scott Cook, said he has trouble understanding the fuss.

"It seems to me it would block our view the most as it's in front of our property, so I don't believe we're infringing on anybody," he said, adding that another, longer boat is docked a few houses down the beach.

The dispute pits a few dozen local residents of this summer playground against a political heavyweight.

Cook, as part of the nation's top echelon of corporate executives, has raised millions of dollars for the Republican Party, chaired the foundation that built the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley and is a director of the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation.

His politics cut both ways: In 1994, Bill Clinton personally handed Cook a birthday cake during a White House celebration, according to accounts of the event. And Cook's Global Crossing is listed as a partner in efforts to build a Clinton presidential library in Little Rock, Ark.

On the other side of the boat issue is Sigband, who doesn't even belong to a political party. But she and her neighbors have weighed Cook's proposal, and they want him to weigh anchor.

"When something like this happens, people (like Cook) who can afford it fight for it, not caring whether they're popular with their neighbors or not," said Sigband, who hosted a gathering of more than 50 neighbors last weekend to discuss Cook's proposal.

The dispute centers on local laws governing the docking of boats and construction of piers on the island, which, while packed with private homes, is ringed by public beaches and popular bay-side walkways that draw strollers and gawkers from far off the island.

"Balboa Island is like a public park," said White. "These are public beaches and public waterways."

Under city codes, boats docked at private piers cannot extend beyond the land property line, which in this case is 30 feet for each lot. While those codes require a city permit be issued before a new pier is built, the city's Harbor Permit Policy largely precludes new piers on crowded Balboa Island. The codes also bar changes to existing piers that would "lessen the use of either the immediate water or land areas."

Cook, who lives in the Sherman Oaks area, has bought two adjacent bay-front properties--one for $1.85 million in 1997, the other for at least $1.5 million last year. A lawyer for the Cooks, John Van Vlear of Newport Beach, said the two properties have been merged legally into one lot.

Cook now wants to shift an existing pier slightly south so it is closer to the center of the combined lots, and then dock his boat at the end of it, parallel to the shore, according to a plan submitted to the city.

"What we're trying to achieve is to park our vessel in front of our property," said Cook's son. "We have a 60-foot lot and, according to the harbor policy, as we understand it, that should allow us to accommodate up to a 60-foot vessel."

Maybe.

"That's what we're grappling with at this point," said Tony Melum, the Harbor Resources Division official handling the permit application. "There are sections of the code that require interpretation."

There are as many as 20 boats berthed at Balboa that are as long as Cook's boat, Melum said. But they are docked parallel to their piers and don't extend over property lines.

And city codes do not cover disputes about boats blocking views, although they do address access, safety and navigation, Melum aid.

For City Councilman Steve Bromberg, who also lives on Balboa Island, the codes are clear.

"The area is a heavily used beach," said Bromberg, who could have a say in the issue should either side appeal an administrative decision--due within two weeks--to the City Council. "How he feels it's within the law I don't know."

Sigband doesn't see that there's all that much interpreting to be done, either.

"I think it sets a bad precedent," she said as the sun danced off the bay outside her home. "Does buying a third house mean they can put a 90-foot boat in?"

*

Times staff writer Stanley Allison contributed to this story.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Boat of Contention

Neighbors of a Balboa Island boat owner are afraid his boat will block their views and create safety problems.

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