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Who Will Pay for Harbor Patrols?

O.C. supervisors consider tapping other county accounts or the Sheriff's Department.

June 27, 2006|Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writer

Two Orange County cities are balking at the prospect of paying for sheriff's patrols of their harbors, a service the county has provided for decades.

The result is that Newport Beach may decide its own Police Department should staff the patrol boats there.

The county spends $10 million a year for the Sheriff's Department to patrol the county's 42 miles of coastline, as well as the county harbor in Dana Point and city harbors in Huntington Beach and Newport Beach.

The issue of who pays for harbor law enforcement has cropped up in recent years as county Supervisors Chris Norby and Lou Correa have questioned why the Harbors, Beaches & Parks division was contributing $3.8 million annually toward the cost, funds that could otherwise go toward recreational facilities along the coast.

A grand jury report last year asked the same question.

Although the Board of Supervisors continued the current arrangement, most supervisors suggested during budget hearings this month that funds for the Harbor Patrol should come from other county accounts or that the Sheriff's Department should cover all of its expenses.

The latter idea didn't sit well with Sheriff Michael S. Carona, who also opposed turning over those duties to cities.

"This is a regional recreational facility, and it's used by people from all over the county," said Capt. Deana Bergquist, who heads the Sheriff's Department's harbor division.

Still, some city officials said that if they were going to get a bill for the Harbor Patrol, they might as well have their own police and marine safety departments patrol the harbors.

Newport Beach Councilman Tod W. Ridgeway said the city had studied taking over Harbor Patrol duties.

"We've thought we could run it more efficiently than the county, and jurisdictionally it makes sense," he said.

Huntington Beach Mayor Dave Sullivan said he wasn't aware of any discussions with the city about paying the county. He said the city liked the current arrangement with the Sheriff's Department.

"I doubt there'd be any desire by Huntington Beach to take over that expense," he said.

The talk comes as the county tries to find ways of paying for the regional services it has traditionally provided. For example, sheriff's deputies continue to police areas of southern Orange County that incorporated in the 1990s, with a bill sent each year to the new cities.

Supervisors this year opted to continue the current Harbor Patrol arrangement, thanks to $69 million in unexpected tax revenue. But supervisors noted that fortunes could turn next year, along with a push for city money.

"I definitely think there should be a sharing of costs," board Chairman Bill Campbell said.

The Harbor Patrol employs 49 sheriff's deputies to cover the coastline and the three harbors, where about 15,000 boats are moored. The division provides law enforcement, marine firefighting, open-water rescue and vessel assistance.

Last year, the patrols made few arrests -- 28 -- but came to the aid of nearly 1,200 boaters.

Los Angeles County's coastal patrol duties are handled by the Sheriff's Department and by police in cities that have harbors. The Sheriff's Department patrols the harbor at unincorporated Marina del Rey, while police in Redondo Beach and Santa Monica patrol those harbors. The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have their own police.

Orange County discussions about who should pay for the Harbor Patrol come at a particularly sensitive time for Newport Beach. A pact over the fate of several other county facilities throughout the city will be considered next month by supervisors and the City Council.

The agreement includes:

* Turning over the Dunes aquatic park and marina, now under county control, to the city. In exchange, Newport Beach would reimburse the county $2 million a year in lease revenue. The county also would share equally in any money-making venture begun at the Dunes.

* Allowing Newport Beach to annex Santa Ana Heights, a neighborhood near John Wayne Airport. The city would get a share of property taxes to pay for a fire station, already under construction, as well as build a community center, two parks and a horse arena.

* Giving Newport Beach veto authority over plans to expand the airport's footprint. The city, in turn, would agree not to annex airport property without the county's consent.

Finally, the agreement would open the door to discussions about the future of the Harbor Patrol in Newport Beach through a study examining what services are provided by the county and the city in Lower Newport Bay.

Supervisors nearly decided last year to bill cities for the Harbor Patrol.

Campbell said this month that the time was near to reconsider the idea. He said he would consider letting cities take over the patrol duties only if they agreed to be responsible for their entire coastlines, rather than just their harbors.

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Begin text of infobox

Floating patrol

The county spends about $10 million a year for deputies to monitor the coast, a county harbor in Dana Point and city harbors in Huntington Beach and Newport Beach. Some county supervisors say the cities should pick up the cost of patrolling their harbors.

2005 O.C. Harbor Patrol activity

*--* Type Number Arrests 28 Citations 190 Accidents investigated 76 Boater assistance 1,196 Hazardous material 83 Vessel fires 28 Mooring duties 734 Rescues 170

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Source: Orange County Harbor Patrol. Graphics reporting by Jean O. Pasco

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