Businesses allowed to stay at Olde Port Beach

The Port San Luis Harbor Commission has shelved proposals to close Olde Port Beach to concessionaires and raise license fees.

Instead, the commission directed harbor district staff to return with a new proposal for a tiered rate schedule as a way to raise more revenue. The idea of closing Olde Port Beach to commercial activity was not popular with the commission and is unlikely to be reconsidered in the near future, said Steve McGrath, harbor manager.

McGrath had proposed charging as much as $1,000 annually to obtain a concessionaire license along with a standardized fee equal to 10 percent of a business’s gross revenues. Currently, the only fee that businesses pay is a percent-of-revenue fee that ranges from 8 percent to 10 percent.

The commission directed McGrath to return with a proposal that would create a tiered fee schedule, which would give highest priority to and charge the lowest fees from businesses providing beach-dependent services, such as kayak rentals.

Concessionaires who provide services that are not limited to beaches, such as special events, would have a lower priority and could potentially pay higher fees, McGrath said. No date has been set for the commission to hear a new fee proposal.

New concessionaire fees are needed because the current percentage-of-revenue fee alone is not enough to cover the district’s expenses, McGrath said. The district has an annual $14,400 shortfall in covering license-application expenses, which amounts to the district subsidizing commercial activities, he said.

Concerning the closure of Olde Port Beach to concessionaires, McGrath cited safety considerations. The beach is narrow and can almost disappear beneath the water during high tide, leaving insufficient room for both beachgoers and commercial activities.

“Especially at higher tides, ‘choke’ points can easily occur even without commercial activities,” McGrath said.

Olde Port Beach is 300 yards long near the main entrance to Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. It features a boat ramp and 12 fire rings. Kayak and paddle board rentals as well as parties and special events are licensed activities on the beach.

One of the concessionaires, Beach Butlerz, opposed the closure. Cecile DeMartini, manager of the San Luis Obispo-based company, said closing the beach to vendors and charging new fees would be a double hit to her business and reduce public enjoyment of the port.

“We believe our company enhances recreational opportunities at Olde Port Beach and that any concerns regarding public safety and access at Olde Port Beach can be satisfactorily addressed without eliminating commerce,” she said.