Story and photos by: Ruarri Serpa
Oceanside CA- At a special meeting last week, the Harbor and Beaches Advisory Committee voted to purchase a new Harbor Patrol “red boat,” the boats that provide all of the safety services required on the water. A tall order, and one that has been met with deep concerns, even from supporters of the idea.
Liz Rhea, of the Harbor and Beaches Advisory Committee, questioned Harbor Patrol about downsizing the fleet.
Les George, also of the Committee, accused former City Manager Peter Weiss of mismanaging the harbor for the past few years by failing to budget for the boats. “Peter Weiss is the one who caused this problem.”
At a meeting in April, Weiss gave a mea culpa to the Advisory Committee, but later defended his action, saying that the city hadn’t budgeted for vehicles for 30 years. “Other departments bought vehicles out of their own resources.”
Harbor Patrol currently has three vessels: one small craft to provide limited capability inside the harbor, and two larger vessels which can operate outside the protection of the breakwater.
The problem for Harbor Patrol is that two of its rescue vessels are operating ten years beyond their lifespan, which was calculated for recreational use. The small red boat, and one of the larger ones were launched in the mid 1980s. The second large red boat was launched in 2002, which puts it half way through its projected lifespan.
What they want, is to replace the 30 year-old boats with new vessels that are identical to the large safety boats: deep-v hull shape, inboard motors, integrated pump, open pit transom, with a step for rescues.
A fourth boat was acquired in 2012 through a grant from the Department of Homeland Security, to serve on interdiction missions for the federal agency. But while the DHS safety boat may help push illegal landings out of San Diego County, it does little to contribute to the day-to-day rescue operations of the Harbor Patrol.
Les George said that although Harbor Patrol needs the new boats, he didn’t want to see it paid for by increases in the slip rental fees.
“We need accountability in management,” said George, who is considering the job of Harbor Master. He wants the city to pay for the new boats in their upcoming budget.
He believes that the slip renters pay too much for Police services at Oceanside Harbor, which has driven down demand for the 900 slips.
“The city raised fees above what the market will bear,” George said.
But Peter Weiss says that even though slip renters are paying more for police services than city residents, they receive more than a normal share.
“They’re not paying for a lieutenant, dispatch, administration, and other overhead,” said Weiss. And when there’s a crime in the harbor, resources from the Police Department are used, Weiss said.
Slip fees are in line with similar sized harbors in the area, and they account for 75% of the harbor’s budget. Most of the remaining money comes from parking fees.
Harbor Patrol responded to 1,096 calls in 2013, including 32 incidents outside of the harbor area. Since the harbor opened in 1963, Harbor Patrol has maintained its size, employing eight officers, and one sergeant. In the 50 years of operation, the harbor doubled the number of slips that it rents out.
According to George, raising the fees even more would further decrease demand for the harbor, at a time when the city is looking to boost the revenue that the harbor generates.
Oceanside has the only harbor in the county north of Mission Bay, which makes it a vital asset to the coast.
In 2011, City Council adopted a 20 year plan for the harbor, which included a list of Capital Improvement Projects. All seven members of the Advisory Committee supported the plan, even without the red boats included among the items.
The request last week involves a $500,000 advance from the City to pay for a red boat, which the slip renters will repay at a rate of $25,000 per year. Another $55,000 per year will be set aside for a replacement fund.
In addition to replacing the safety boats, the Committee is looking to get a new electronic key system for the docks, and facilities, lights for the parking lot, and additional office staff.
Ruarri Serpa is a freelance reporter from Oceanside, CA. You can contact him directly at RuarriS@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: @Ruarris