Boaters in Newport Harbor are exploiting loopholes in a law to "sell" publicly owned moorings, resulting in some owners waiting years -- sometimes decades -- to get a spot to tie up their yachts, according to a grand jury report released Thursday.
Private brokers have created a cottage industry selling rights to mooring slips along with the boats that are registered to them, allowing buyers to circumvent the long wait others endure to get one of the 1,235 moorings in the harbor, the report said.
The practice has mushroomed in recent years in tandem with demand for docking space along Orange County's affluent coast.
It also found that exceptions have been made allowing private yacht clubs to hold mooring permits even though the law requires the permit to be in the name of an individual.
In other cases, vessels and moorings have been registered in the name of family trusts, allowing families to extend control of moorings after the principal boater's death.
"The Harbor Patrol manages a waiting list for people seeking mooring permits, but rarely do any become available," the report said. "Moorings are at a premium and most of those on the list have been waiting for years, if not decades."
"The process of transferring public mooring permits has been usurped."
Moorings are anchored buoys to which boaters can tie up their vessels, and are considered a lower-cost option to marina slips. Fees for the permits range from $10 to $20 per linear foot per year. But the report found instances in which small or decrepit boats sold at greatly inflated prices because they came with a mooring permit.
Still, the report stopped short of recommending a policy change that would expressly bar the transfer of mooring permits when the boats that use them are sold.
Instead, it suggested tightening regulations "to ensure that all monies received which rightly belong to the public stay within the public arena."
It also noted that mooring fees have not been increased since 1995, but stopped short of explicit recommendations to raise them; rather, it simply said the fees should be reviewed.
The county and Newport Beach are required to respond to the findings and suggestions, and could put changes in place if they see fit.
"There certainly are some issues here that need to be addressed," said Supervisor John Moorlach, whose district includes Newport Harbor.