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Santa Ana assemblyman plans to introduce a bill that would prevent Newport Beach from taking over the Harbor Patrol.

May 19, 2007

Newport Beach and Orange County officials may take their battle for control of the Harbor Patrol to a new venue: Sacramento.

Santa Ana Assemblyman Jose Solorio plans to introduce a bill that would give the Orange County sheriff "sole and exclusive authority" for security in the county's harbors and along its coast and waterways.

If the bill were approved, it would put the kibosh on talks between Orange County supervisors and Newport Beach city leaders, who are considering a city takeover of Newport's Harbor Patrol services.

An earlier bill that's waiting for an Assembly committee hearing would have made coastal sheriffs statewide the authorities over harbors and the coastline. Solorio said Orange County was really the target of that bill, but he thought the proposal should come from a local legislator like him.

"Our sheriff's officers have been providing excellent service for the past 30 years, so there needs to be a very compelling case to change that," Solorio said Friday. "I just want to make sure we don't undermine the safety of our beaches and harbors by being political with the situation."

Solorio said he was approached by Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona's office and the Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs to carry the bill. Carona said keeping the Harbor Patrol in his hands makes the most sense because state law makes him responsible for the coastline, and he'd still have to handle harbors in Dana Point and Huntington Beach even if he wasn't patrolling Newport.

"The costs escalate because you've taken away this kind of fine balance we have between all three harbors," Carona said. "It isn't about trying to take something away from Newport Beach. It's about maintaining the quality of services that we have for all the residents of Orange County."

Previously, the board of supervisors voted unanimously to oppose the statewide bill. Now, Moorlach said, the idea of Newport taking over its own harbor "has certain people very nervous…. They're going to do what they can to protect their territory."

Moorlach said there's no reason Harbor Patrol services - which include law enforcement, fire safety and water rescues - have to be provided by the sheriff, so why not at least evaluate the options? Newport is also bristling at Solorio's proposal.

"Our reaction is if it's something that is good for Orange County, it ought to be good all over the state," Newport Beach City Manager Homer Bludau said. "It isn't that we're anxious to take over from the sheriff, but it seems like the people that fund the service - the Board of Supervisors - should have the latitude to decide how that service is provided."

Solorio wasn't sure when he'll introduce the bill, but he said it will be soon.