SANTA CRUZ -- A $10 fee to launch stand-up paddleboards and kayaks at the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor has drawn the ire of many paddlers accustomed to launching for free.
The fee is set to be collected for the first time Saturday by attendants near the harbor entrances, said Santa Cruz Port District Director Lisa Ekers.
Signs have been posted since early November near the A and F docks, where kayakers and paddleboarders often launch in calm water.
Although many users complained about the fee -- including an online petition of 340 signatures against it -- Ekers said it helps pay for maintenance of restrooms, docks, lighting and services of the Harbor Patrol such as rescue.
She said it was an attempt to be fair to boaters and other harbor users who also pay harbor fees. Boaters who launch with a trailer also pay fees, as well as boaters who rent slips and other facilities.
"The port district is 100 percent funded by user fees. We have zero tax revenue," Ekers said. "Everything we have and do is funded by the people who use it."
She added that the fee technically is not new, since it is part of the "car top" fee to launch boats from the main launch ramp that dates to the mid-1980s.
Stand-up paddleboarding has exploded at the harbor in the past 18 months, she said. In that time, harbor leaders have been busy repairing facilities after the tsunami hit in March 2011 and had not been able to focus on collecting
Leaders had considered starting to collect the fee in the summer -- the busiest time for paddleboarders and kayaks -- but decided to wait until November when there were fewer users.
As a rough gauge of who would pay the fee, 20-30 paddleboarders launched from the docks from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. during a busy Saturday in October, harbor officials said.
Craig Stanton was one of many users who took umbrage with the fee.
He created a website, www.SaveHarborAccess.com, and collected signatures on a petition.
"To charge a $10 per use fee will eliminate the only affordable, safe access point to the harbor and the Monterey Bay," Stanton wrote.
Stanton noted that paddleboarders who want to avoid the fee instead might launch from Seabright or Twin Lakes state beaches. Thumping shorebreak could be dangerous, he said.
"Launching kayaks, SUPs, outriggers and small boats simply cannot be done safely from the beaches on most days," Stanton wrote.
Ekers said paddlers still have that option.
"It's going to come down to the skill of the paddler," she said. "It's a choice only they can make."
Ekers added, "The harbor's main mission is to be a harbor for boats, but we understand this desire to use the facility. I hope that the conversation continues in a positive light. We want to be a community resource and be fair to everyone."
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