EAST BASIN PARKING PROBLEMS
For those boaters who missed our first report and also to provide additional background information we've now confirmed with fellow boaters and others, let's discuss specifics of two separate problems. The picture is now pretty clear.
1. The Catalina Express parking concession has been a very serious problem for Dana Point recreational boaters for as many years as this service has operated out of our Harbor. DPBA has been working hard for the past four years to get this problem fixed and as a result, boaters have seen significant progress.
Beyond the comprehensive holiday parking management plan (a chronological task list covering seven pages) rolled out last year, and which really did make a positive difference, many Dana Point boaters this year were pleased to discover that Catalina Express parking was no longer part of the plan for the West Basin Cove or Island, East Basin Cove or Embarcadero. It follows directly that West Basin and Embarcadero boaters have reported no notable problems over the 4th of July weekend this year, at least so far. (If you did see problems then please let us know.) To be frank, we are very proud of that. This doesn't mean that dedicated boater parking is not still being misused for the benefit of Catalina Flyer customers. It simply means that an extremely serious problem, with disastrous consequences for many boaters, was limited to the East Basin.
Based upon many recent conversations we believe a complete solution for the East Basin is in the works. But let's carefully review the facts here rather than just blaming others and blowing smoke. Over the 4th of July weekend the Catalina Express parking concession was budgeted for 84 back row automobile parking spaces in the East Basin Island "dedicated" boater parking lot. (Quotes are being used here because we do want to explain, and thereby hopefully preclude the possibility that our intentions will again be misrepresented out of context. To be clear, we believe this parking should be dedicated; we want it dedicated and are working to this end. While we believe it serves no useful purpose to rant about this (and frankly would damage our cause were this how we typically behaved), we are as frustrated as any boater that it is not dedicated, especially during peak recreational boating periods.)
Now back to facts. These 84 spaces were supposed to be used only as overflow following the 77 spaces in the (vacant) Beach House Restaurant parking lot being completely filled. In other words, the overflow lot was supposed to service only shorter duration Catalina Express parking events, for that customer arriving later in the weekend. This part of the plan was important because many Catalina visitors leave for Avalon on Friday's before a holiday and stay for 3 or 4 days. Often Fridays are the busiest Catalina Express parking days. The big problem here was that this year the parking lot attendants didn't follow instructions and they also had the two parking lot signs mixed up. So those 84 supposedly overflow spaces (the same number as last year when there weren't any boater East Basin Island parking problems noted) were quickly filled on Friday and of course they stayed filled. The attendants even let about in about 20 more cars they they should have park before order was restored Saturday morning. Yes, you've probably heard exaggerations elsewhere, but that's the real number based on estimates we've received from dozens of boaters. That's about 20 more Catalina Express customers than last year, in a parking lot with hundreds of spaces. Of course on Saturday the damage had already been done. It turned out that the last of the Catalina Express customer cars didn't actually leave the East Basin Island dedicated boater parking lot until sometime Tuesday afternoon.
2. A second problem turned out to be even more significant. As many boaters already now, a new night club known as The Island Bar was opened to the general public earlier this year upstairs at the Aventura Sailing Association. This location is inside the East Basin Island dedicated boater parking lot and the only parking spaces available nearby for the general public are those few spaces along the Dana Drive jetty. During peak periods these spaces are usually occupied by picnickers and others. To get around this limit to their business, the operators of the night club concession has been using gate attendants to let potential customers in as well as publishing East Basin gate code on their Facebook page. An aside, this gate code was provided to Aventura some time ago as the convenience for its members who would otherwise have to buy cards as slip renters do.
The club has recently been featuring well-known local live bands on weekend nights and afternoons. Good live entertainment which is well promoted is a big draw and as a consequence the night club's business as increased dramatically. Over the 4th of July holiday weekend, starting Friday afternoon and continuing through Sunday, the very large number of Island Bar customers (and countless members of the general public who were swept along) who gained access to the East Basin Island parking lot almost completely consumed all available boater East Basin island parking spaces. There was a domino effect too, which also seriously impacted East Basin Cove parking.
What has happened since the holiday to make sure this disaster never happens again:
As discussed within our previous boater blast, three DPBA leaders met with Brad Gross, OC DPH Director three days after the holiday weekend and spent about two hours discussing what went wrong. Beyond the disappointment and frustration expressed by DPBA representatives during the long meeting at the OC DPH offices, all present were in agreement on these three basic points.
1. While the parking management plan that had we had worked so hard on the year before was a good plan and had been quite successful last year, it could have produced even better results this year since all merchant employee parking in the harbor was completely eliminated for the entire weekend from Friday on.
2. Instead the plan was improperly executed this year within the East Basin. Instead of any improvement, the result was that there was a needless hassle during the most important boating weekend of the year as well as avoidable loss of recreational boater access to their boats.
3. More significant even in its negative impact, the unauthorized use of boater parking for night club customers and the general public doomed any plan to certain failure.
As a result of our meeting, OC DPH agreed to address both of the two fundamental issues above and also to make other changes to the holiday parking plan based on what had been learned. (In candor, it became apparent as the meeting wore on that some work was already underway.)
Following the Harbor Association monthly meeting last Thursday morning (DPBA is an invited guest attendant each month, there representing recreational boater interests), we received a OC DPH status update and learned that progress was being made. One example, the East Basin Island gate code had been changed and would be changed in the future as appropriate. While we won't (can't) speak for OC DPH, we anticipate that they will make announcements at the proper time, certainly before the next holiday weekend.
Also last Thursday, DPBA President Rodger Beard met for about an hour with the owners of Aventura Sailing Association, Mark Sanger and Dave Loesch at their facilities. Just another reminder, DPBA doesn't just throw hand grenades and run. We strive to work with all harbor stakeholders on behalf of our fellow boaters, to come up with solutions that work for everyone. This meeting was candid and productive. We were frankly surprised to learn that Mark and Dave were unhappy with the financial results of the night club operations (operated by bar employee concessionaires). But they weren't just unhappy about that. They reported that the negative impact upon boater parking over past weekends also extended to their sailing members as well (some 700 strong) who treat their club as their social hub and a place that they typically need to visit at least briefly before and after they charter a boat.
Above said, it also became apparent that that there was something else bothering Mark and Dave. As Mark explained with a bit of emotion in his voice, Aventura has been in the Harbor for over 30 years and their core business as always served the best interests of recreational boating. (As many boaters probably know, Aventura's recreational boating services are pretty extensive as well as affordable.) We understood Mark to being saying that he was proud that until recently, Aventura has always been viewed as a good citizen of our Harbor and had always maintained high standing within the boating community. We would be remiss here were we not to emphasize that we completely agree. No question, Aventura has been a significant long-time contributor to affordable recreational boating opportunities. This is a key part of DPBA's mission as well. Indeed many of our members and fellow boaters started out as Aventura members and many still are members.
Anyway, in the end, "push apparently came to shove". Mark and Dave reported that they had already decided that they would end the night club operation, effective immediately. More specifically, what we heard was the following:
1. Aventura will continue to hold member social events and occasional catered functions. They are of course fully entitled to do this by the terms of their lease as well as guidelines within the current Local Coastal Program (LCP).
2. Aventura will hire bands occasionally, but only within the context above. There is to be no night club style operations. (This should end a complaint from boaters near The Islands Bar who return from overnight fishing trips to find empty bottles and debris in the back of their trucks.)
3. Like in other Harbor venues adjacent to the water, sound carrying over the water will end by 10:00 PM. (Another major boater complaint during the past several months.)
4. They will no longer provide parking to the general public.
In the spirit of "trust but verify" DPBA representatives had dinner at Aventura Friday night after racing (it was good too!), and we stayed to enjoy the recorded music. The music was pretty loud after dinner, as it usually does where there is dancing. But sure enough, at 9:55 PM the music was turned way down. We left and could hardly hear anything from outside except folks upstairs talking and having a good time.
Unfortunately, the story doesn't end here however. Later this weekend we were quite disappointed to learn that the commitment to the elimination of public parking has not yet been met.
East Basin Island Parking Gate
As you can see from this picture taken by a DPBA volunteer late on Saturday afternoon, the same parking attendants who have been at the East Basin Island dedicated boater parking gate during most weekends lately, including the disastrous 4th of July weekend, were still there. We do not know yet whether this was a mistake (we are hopeful) or a misrepresentation during our meeting last Thursday.
What happens next?
Given progress in the offing at OC DPH, as well as our belief that Aventura will eventually (hopefully very soon) live up to every one of their commitments, your DPBA leadership is optimistic that boaters may have seen the last of the problems we've experienced in the East Basin on busy weekends so far this summer, most especially over the 4th of July holiday weekend.
We'll keep you updated as we continue to work with other harbor stakeholders and continue to monitor for forward progress. The upcoming Labor Day weekend holiday (not the 4th of July, but still a very busy holiday) will be a good test. The next 4th of July weekend will the final test.