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Plan to allow mega-yachts to moor in Newport Harbor draws criticism

Residents worry that the arrival of developer Rick Caruso's yacht and other big vessels, even for short stays, will set a bad precedent.

August 26, 2013|By Emily Foxhall
  • Developer Rick Caruso's 216-foot yacht, the Invictus, is shown near Seattle. The pending arrival of the Invictus and another mega-boat in Newport Harbor is testing the patience of some residents, who say the vessels will be a nuisance.
Developer Rick Caruso's 216-foot yacht, the Invictus, is shown near… ( )

At 216 feet from stem to stern, the Invictus is a colossus of a yacht, complete with a gym, a theater and a dining room table that comfortably seats 20.

And when billionaire developer Rick Caruso's mega-boat pulls in and out of Newport Harbor in the coming weeks, it will dwarf the cabin cruisers and sailboats that typically bob on the waters here. Even the long-running Balboa Island Ferry will be a speck in comparison.

But the pending arrival of the Invictus and a second yacht, the 130-foot Marama, is also testing the patience of some Newport residents who say the massive vessels — even as temporary visitors — will be a nuisance and possibly lead to other large-boat owners making Newport Harbor a port of call.

"Once they see them there, they're going to go nuts," said Lido Isle resident Judy Rosener, predicting the reaction once the boats anchor in the harbor.

Neighbors Pamela Whitesides and Judy Cole, whose condominiums face the open water where Caruso's boat will be moored, said their effort to keep the Invictus from parking in front of their homes has been fruitless so far.

Caruso's yacht was granted permission earlier this summer by the city's Harbor Commission to anchor off the west end of Lido Isle, a residential island of multimillion-dollar homes and a popular spot for paddleboarders and kayakers. Caruso was not available for comment.

Concerned with the light and noise that might pour from the Invictus, Whitesides and Cole met Monday with Newport Beach's mayor and asked that he call for an appeal of the commission's approval. But he declined, as did Councilman Michael Henn, whose district includes the harbor area where the boat would make its temporary home.

"We've pretty much exhausted anything we can do at this point," Whitesides said.

Caruso, who developed the Grove shopping and entertainment complex in Los Angeles and contemplated a run for mayor, needed special approval to stay in the recently dredged harbor because it is not equipped with moorings that can accommodate a boat with such girth, said the city's harbor resources manager, Chris Miller.

In granting permission to Caruso and the owner of the Marama, city harbor commissioners said they viewed it as a trial effort to see whether Newport Harbor could play host to visiting mega-yachts, a potential source of revenue for the city.

If no appeal is made by the end of the day Wednesday, Miller will issue permits to both owners — with special conditions. The yachts will not be in the harbor simultaneously, and the permits can be revoked at any time.

A local shipyard owner first raised the issue during the harbor commission's July meeting, telling commissioners that Caruso — who has a vacation home in Newport Beach — wished to host a christening party for his new yacht.

By coincidence, another boat owner had also contacted the city with a similar request to bring the Marama into the harbor for five days at the end of September. The owner, whom Harbor Commissioner Brad Avery declined to identify, intends to host a small, private family wedding, he said.

A standard rate of $38 per foot per year will apply for the moorings, Miller said. To stay for the two months requested, though he intends to be in the harbor for only part of the time, Caruso will pay a pro-rated total of about $1,400. He will also need to pay to set up the moorings.

Several people, including Whitesides and Cole, expressed concern with how quickly the commission approved the Invictus' arrival, saying more research about the yacht and its potential harm to the area should have been done.

Rosener, who won't be able to see Caruso's yacht from her home but drives past the area often, said she's concerned that the decision to essentially to rent out parking spots to huge boats will inevitably set a precedent. A former state coastal commissioner, Rosener said she wonders who had ultimate jurisdiction over the area.

Not everyone is put out by the arrival of the mega-boats.

Just as boat bloggers have been tracking the southerly voyage of the Invictus from Seattle, both yachts could be enjoyable sights for both residents and visitors, some say.

"I think people in our harbor would just love to see something this beautiful," said Diane Johnson, a longtime Newport Beach resident whose company oversaw the boat's interior design.

"They're boat people. They've sailed around our bay, and the ocean beyond, and they just love the idea of boats."

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