Seabridge over troubled waters
Local harbor community says fees are too high for Harbor Patrol services
By Chris O'Neal 01/23/2014
Some members of the Seabridge community at the Channel Islands Harbor are hoping to turn up the heat on the County of Ventura and Oxnard City Council over a dispute on the proportion of taxes used to fund the Harbor Patrol.
Residents of the Seabridge community, conceived in 2000 but not constructed until 2006, are upset about a disproportionate amount of taxes paid to fund the patrol, a service that assures security on the waters for the surrounding communities.
Kirk Kushen was one of the first to purchase a home at Seabridge in 2006, and was the first president of the Home Owners Association. When he signed the escrow papers to purchase his home, along with it came a memorandum of understanding that detailed the cost of living and fees required to live in the community. Kushen, however, was unaware just how much the cost of maintaining the harbor patrol would rise over the next eight years.
“The bottom line is that the Harbor Patrol budget goes up every year and we’re paying an extremely disproportionate share of their budget,” said Kushen.
In the original memorandum, developers Oly Mandalay Bay General Partnership (OMB), along with the county of Ventura and the city of Oxnard, intended to build a second harbor patrol station to serve the Mandalay Bay, Westport and Seabridge waterways for the exclusive use of the county. The developers also agreed to provide a “well-maintained ship lift and a fully outfitted office,” as well as fixtures, various equipment and furniture.
Eventually, the developers sold the rights to develop the property to D.R. Horton, who completed the project.
Also included in the memorandum is a requirement to hire and fund several new members of the patrol, specifically a sergeant harbor patrol officer III and three harbor patrol officers level II and to provide them, every five years, with a motor vehicle and two harbor patrol boats.
This, according to the memorandum, was to be paid for by the formation of a Mello-Roos district, also known as a community facilities district, which includes the residents of the Seabridge community. Within the district, special property taxes can be levied to fund local projects, in this case, the extra harbor patrol officers and equipment. The issue that has arisen is not with the original agreement, but with the expanding budget of the Harbor Patrol, which has caused the district’s share of the cost to increase dramatically.
Channel Islands Harbor has 2,888 slips (docks), and out of that Seabridge has 225 total. The Seabridge community makes up 7.8 percent of the population at the harbor but pays 28.5 percent of the harbor patrol budget. Close to $650,000 goes into the harbor patrol’s budget from Seabridge annually to augment the cost of staffing, upkeep and new equipment.
Comparatively, Marina Del Rey, which is the largest small craft harbor in the United States, has 4,700 working slips with 15 harbor patrol officers, who are also L.A. Sherriff’s deputies, whereas Channel Islands Harbor has 17 harbor patrol officers. The Marina Del Rey officers are also first responders for fire rescue and law enforcement for Santa Monica bay.
Harbor Director Lyn Krieger says that the issue needs to be resolved by the harbor communities, specifically between Seabridge, Mandalay Bay and Westport, in order to reopen the memorandum, but Krieger said that the many duties performed by the officers merit the number needed.
“Their main thing are medical calls, either people fall in the water, hurt themselves for a variety of reasons,” said Krieger. “But they also do security patrols 24 hours a day, in and out of the marina docks. Out of an eight hour shift, six are spent on a boat.”
“When it comes to public safety, I’m pretty much on the spot,” said Kushen, who works as a fire chief and has spent his entire career in the public safety sector. “[Marina Del Rey is] responsible for twice the number of vessels and have all of these other responsibilities and their staffing is one person more.”
Vice President of the Seabridge Home Owners Association Scott Bernstein said that he doesn’t believe the extra station, officers and vehicles are necessary.
“I don’t think the additional two boats are really necessary, and if they are necessary I think [the cost] should be allocated to everyone who lives on the water,” said Bernstein. “They would pay a smaller percentage and everyone would get the same benefit.”
After researching the issue, Kushen said that with the memorandum, the district was able to increase the Harbor Patrol’s budget, and did so, though the budget ballooned beyond expectations.
“When you signed your escrow papers, they were disclosed by D.R. Horton, but the way the fees are structured, the harbor patrol has padded their budget and has deferred a lot of their cost specifically on Seabridge homeowners,” said Kushen.
Both Kushen and Bernstein said that they have attempted to remedy their situation through the Oxnard City Council and the county but have had no success.
“The more I dug, the more I got shutdown. Finally, I get a letter from the City Council saying that they had been directed by county counsel to have no more communication with me,” said Kushen. “I sent them letters, asked them questions, and basically I was shut down.”
For Bernstein and the members of the Seabridge community, their options are running dry.
“Seabridge is currently in the process of interviewing counsel to address the issue,” said Bernstein. “Best-case situation is if the city and council sat down and decided to revisit the [memorandum] and amend it so that the taxes split evenly among those who benefit among those who live on the water.”
Oxnard Mayor Tim Flynn and Assistant County Counsel Robert Orellana could not be reached for comment.