Friday, May 08, 2015

Jet Packs: Letter to Mayor and Council Members

Honorable Mayor and City Council Members,

Attached is another copy of the letter we sent earlier in the week with 5 additional pages for a total of 146 signatures. While this is just a sampling, it is clear that Newport Beach property owners, residents, local business owners, owners of marine businesses, harbor workers, yacht club members, sailing club members, sailing program directors, past harbor commissioners, boaters, professional yacht captains, marine insurance & financial brokers, owners of the 2 largest shipyards in Newport, kayakers, SUPers and other harbor users overwhelmingly agree that the Jetpack type businesses or personal watercraft DO NOT BELONG inside Newport Harbor. Most are surprised that Jetpack America was ever permitted in the first place. Only a handful of people we all spoke to were “on the fence” or against the ban- 2 of whom happened to be friends of Dean O’Malley’s. Even the attendees at Diane Dixon’s town hall meeting on Monday night overwhelmingly supported a ban. These are the people that know our harbor the best and they deserve to be listened to. These citizens pay property taxes, residential and commercial pier and mooring permit fees, business taxes, licenses and permits, marina slip rentals, boat rentals etc. Our quality of life, quiet enjoyment and safety need to be put ahead of the minority of visitors or residents who happen to enjoy the experience. They can still enjoy it outside the harbor or in another harbor that is more compatible.

It is not enough to regulate the activity- the Jetpack business hasn’t followed the existing regulations and enforcement is not realistic. The alternate proposal that has been included in the most recent staff report today is offensive. One operator, let alone two at the same time in the same place is inappropriate. There is NO compatible place in Newport Harbor for this type of business. We urge you to follow the educated recommendation of the Harbor Commission and the vast majority of residents and harbor users and vote to ban ALL water propelled vessels above the surface of the water. Thank you again for your consideration,
Judy and Don Cole.

Letter Number #2
Honorable Mayor and City Council,

Jetpack America’s Operation Plan has an emergency protocol for when one of its customers is knocked unconscious!  Unfortunately, there is NO emergency response plan for if and when a flyer crashes into someone else in harbor, injuring, killing or knocking them unconscious.  What more is there to say?  After months of study, debate, and hearings by the Harbor Commission and its ad hoc Committee, public comment, emails and letters, as well as City Council study sessions and meetings, no one on the City Council can pretend to be unaware that jetpacks pose an unacceptable safety risk to jetpack customers, but more importantly to the other users of the harbor.  Under the Municipal Code, commercial activities that “create a hazard to safe navigation, or otherwise interfere with the rights of others to use the waters of Newport Harbor” should not be permitted.  (Municipal Code, Chapter 17.10, Section 17.10.050, subsection D).

Likewise, no one on the City Council can pretend that jetpacks do not create excessive noise and wakes that have significantly interfered with property owners' right to quietly enjoy their homes and businesses, as well as negatively impacted the public’s right to enjoy beaches and the shoreline around the bay, free from the unremitting noise of jetpacks.   (Mun. Code, Chap. 17.10, Section 17.10.050, subsection A [Commercial activity permits should not be granted if the activity is “likely to create noise which would adversely affect use or enjoyment of waters of Newport Harbor by members of the public, or interfere with the right of those who own property near the waters of Newport Harbor to the peaceful and quiet enjoyment of that property.”]).

Much has been made of the fact Jetpack America has been in the harbor for several years, sort of a plea of entitlement as a successful “long-standing business."  In view of the Municipal Code, however, granting Jetpack America’s permit was a mistake in the first place.  Cast in the best light, if the Harbor Resources Manager had realized the disruption and inherent danger to other harbor users, and the likelihood the excessive noise would impact everyone around the harbor, following the Code would have led him to deny the permit. The permit was granted, however, before we even knew what jetpacks were.  Once we saw and heard them, the surprised and appalled property owners around the bay, the boaters, swimmers, and other harbor users had little recourse but to endure them.  Not that we didn’t protest.  Harbor businesses and residents, and other users of the bay have complained about safety, noise, wakes and law-breaking by Jetpack America almost non-stop.  We’ve written emails and letters and made phone calls to the Harbor Resource Manager and staff, Harbor Patrol, spoken at Harbor Commission meetings, and complained about jetpacks in City Council meetings.  It obviously wasn’t Jetpack America’s sterling reputation in the harbor that prompted the City Council to study whether they belong here.  Dismay and controversy have followed Jetpack America wherever it has gone in the harbor and for as long as it has been here.   

Unless the Council compounds the mistake and continues to ignore the City’s Municipal Code, it cannot vote to continue to allow jetpacks in the harbor.  It is unfortunate, however, that a review of the Staff Report in “support” of the proposed ban on jetpacks confirms prior suspicions that Jetpack America has something of an inside track on a "way to get to yes.”  Jetpack America's arrogant Operation Plan has a starring role in the Staff Report, and it contains many claims and promises. It confirms Jetpack America intends to operate just as it has been, all day, seven days a week, but also that it intends to add even more jetpacks to operate at the same time.  Jetpack America promises to “instruct” its “pilots,” presumably its customers, that they must fly under 5 mph in the harbor.  In contrast, Jetpack America advertises that customers can fly 30 feet high and exceed 30 mph.  Who is kidding who?  Suggesting flyers who are instructed to stay at 5 mph will do so is laughable.  After the first “training flight” when customers take the throttle and control their own speed, the entire objective is to fly as high and as fast as possible until they crash.  Jetpack America certainly doesn’t use the “kill switch” to stop them now from exceeding the speed limit, and I doubt it would commit to doing so in the future.

Jetpacks belong in the ocean outside the harbor.  Despite Dean O’Malley’s claim he just can’t make Jetpack America work outside the harbor, apparently another jetpack business already operates successfully in the ocean.  Jetpack America brags that its equipment works just as well in the ocean:  “The jetpack can operate in most weather conditions, including moderately high seas and moderate winds.” (from Jetpack America’s Operation Plan). The truth is Mr. O’Malley would just prefer to impose his operation on everyone else in the harbor rather than find a way to be successful and keep his customers safer out past the jetty.

I urge the City Council to do the right thing and vote to ban jetpacks in Newport Harbor.  There is nothing charming about them.  Thank you.

Pam Whitesides
resident, property owner, and harbor user

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