Morro Bay needs to follow its own ordinances
March 1, 2015
OPINION By LINDA STEDJEE
Recently, the Morro Bay Harbor Department allowed berthing of two commercial fishing boats at a marina south of Tidelands Park. That is not permitted under the Morro Bay Local Coastal Program (LCP) and related municipal code.
The reasons why that type of boat cannot be berthed in that area were discussed at length at the Oct. 26, 2009 city council meeting, where the city attorney stated, “A commercial fishing facility certainly, in my legal opinion, is not allowed in this area.” Responding to a suggestion that the restrictions only applied to new uses; not existing ones, he stated, “… there is no use there that’s continued – and this is why I would consider anything new down there.”
There are good reasons for the restrictions. The boats are large and their working hours extend far into the night. The area is environmentally sensitive and adjacent to a quiet residential neighborhood. That part of the harbor is often crowded with residents and visitors in kayaks and other small boats.
Were those big commercial fishing boats berthed where they shouldn’t be because there was no other place for them? For years, berthing space for these boats has been shrinking.
If, over the years, the law had been followed, there would be plenty of room for commercial fishing boats in areas where they can legally be berthed. A Morro Bay ordinance, known as “Measure D”, reserves much of the harbor north of Beach Street specifically for fishing boats and related facilities. However, this ordinance has been repeatedly violated.
For example, in 2012, a harbor leaseholder was given permission to berth specific “party boats” at a new facility that legally should have been reserved for the fishing community. Had those boats been in the harbor prior to the passage of Measure D, this use would have been allowable under a “grandfather clause”, but they were not. Because this Measure D violation was allowed, berthing space for fishing boats was lost.
Other parts of the Harbor that once served working boats have been converted to different uses – allegedly to generate more income for the Harbor Department. For example, an Embarcadero site that once berthed tugboats, and could have provided berthing for fishing boats after the tugs left, now houses a hotel. The former boat yard on the Embarcadero was replaced by a shopping center, leaving the fishing community with only one very small yard with insufficient capacity to serve their needs. Two Harbor Department attempts to establish another facility failed.
I believe we all respect the fishermen and understand the importance of commercial fishing to our local economy. We know that their needs must be met. At the same time, damage to environmentally-sensitive habitat, disturbance of residential neighborhoods with lights, noise and diesel fumes, and putting the safety of small boat operators at risk cannot be allowed.
I hope that the current city council will step up to the plate, start righting the wrongs of the past, and take steps to ensure there is adequate berthing for commercial fishing boats in those parts of the harbor where that use is safe, appropriate and legal.