Don Pedro houseboaters fear mooring rate increase

05/15/2014 8:42 PM

05/15/2014 10:05 PM

Houseboat owners at Don Pedro Reservoir have lawyered up and are threatening to sue to stop mooring fees from increasing.

The rate increase could happen today, although it’s not specifically listed on an agenda posted by the lake’s managing agency.

Ripon attorney Thomas Terpstra said Thursday that the Don Pedro Board of Control did not have legal authority to implement an interim rate increase in April 2013, still won’t at today’s meeting and violated California’s open meetings law by not posting today’s agenda 72 hours in advance.

“Any attempt to impose moorage rate increases will be immediately challenged in a court of law,” Terpstra said in a May 2 letter to the Board of Control.

The board is composed of representatives from the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts and San Francisco, which own the reservoir, and is considering rate changes requested by Forever Resorts, which operates the lake’s two marinas.

Michael Frantz, a Board of Control member representing TID, said: “I do feel badly that the houseboat community is upset. The board is working diligently to resolve the matter with an agreeable solution for all parties.”

Owners of 257 houseboats vigorously opposed the company’s request for steep rate hikes a couple of years ago, leading to the April 2013 accord, a temporary increase of up to 31 percent and an understanding that a neutral consultant would study rates at other marinas to determine fair prices at Don Pedro.

The issue resurfaced in March when Dornbusch Associates suggested fee hikes of up to 68 percent, depending on location and boat type at the lake 40 miles east of Modesto. The firm agreed to consider houseboaters’ objections, and this week released a revised price list with more modest increases.

The new document shows monthly rates going from:

• $258 to $304 for buoys at the Don Pedro Reservoir southern marina near Fleming Meadows. That’s down from $434 proposed in March
• $258 to $264 for buoys at the northern Moccasin Point marina, instead of $370
• $298 to $417, instead of $448, for slips accommodating houseboats up to 20 feet at Moccasin Point
• $391 to $492, instead of $529, for slips larger than 20 feet at Moccasin Point
• $525 to $596, instead of $646, for slips at the southern marina

A Dornbusch memorandum says the company revised prices after considering houseboat owners’ input, including complaints that comparisons with other lakes did not contemplate various discounts.

Terpstra said the revision is evidence that the initial study was flawed. “How do we know (the second version) is right?” he said.

Today’s agenda lists a closed session to discuss anticipated litigation. The public portion says nothing about the revised study or rates but includes a “director’s report” item that could serve for an announcement that the increase will be adopted, Terpstra said after an exchange with the agency’s attorney.

“From what I understand, they’re going to implement a significant rate increase without any public participation by houseboat owners – no hearing, no opportunity for comment,” Terpstra said.

Terpstra, who is city attorney in Ripon and Atwater in addition to his private practice, said a 1987 “operating agreement” between the irrigation districts and San Francisco gives authority over rate increases to their elected bodies, not the Board of Control. He was hired by the Lake Don Pedro Houseboat Owners Association, which solicited donations of up to $1,000 from its members to fight the increase.

Unrelated to the mooring flap, about 60 houseboats at the lake’s north end, which soon will be too shallow for big watercraft, are expected in June to motor three hours south and join 200 others at the south end.

Concerns about congestion and user satisfaction caused the Lake Don Pedro Recreation Agency to cancel its Fourth of July fireworks show this year. The event typically draws nearly 1,300 boats, and a half-million people visit the lake each year.

Today’s Don Pedro Board of Control meeting will start at 10 a.m. at 1 Lakeshore Drive, Moccasin.

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