STIRRING UP BIG BEAR LAKE – Marina Owners, Kayak Business Owners Debate Non-motorized Rental Issue
Call round one a draw. Marina owners are on one side of the line drawn at the high water mark. Kayak rental businesses stand on the other side.
The Big Bear Municipal Water District listened to both sides of the kayak rental issue during a workshop Oct. 15. The question is whether kayak rental businesses have the authority to conduct business on Big Bear Lake or if it is the exclusive right of the marinas.
MWD General Manager Scott Heule began the meeting with a brief overview of the district’s administrative code. The MWD has jurisdiction over district-owned real property, the water surface of the lake and the land area below elevation 6,743.25 feet.
Marina owners cite a 1991 legal settlement with the district that they say upholds their legal right to exclusive commercial enterprises on the lake. “Kayaks are not a large portion of our business,” said Loren Hafen of Holloway’s Marina and North Shore Landing. “I’m not here because of competition. It is the principle of the point.”
Hafen said comparing the situation with the marinas to ski rentals and ski resorts is not accurate. “We have a specific contract that gives us exclusive rights,” Hafen said. “Ski areas did not have a specific contract with the Forest Service granting them exclusive rights to rent skis.”
The Grizzly has not been able to obtain a copy of the contract Hafen cited.
There are several nonmarina businesses renting kayaks and canoes in Big Bear Lake as well as nonprofit organizations providing kayaks and canoes for tours, instruction and other programs. Rental company owners claim they provide a service that the marinas didn’t focus on and as a result have turned the lake into a kayaking destination.
Ron Cotta of Johnny’s Ski Rental in Boulder Bay believes there is room for everyone. “We are approached often about where to rent kayaks and we direct them to our business,” Cotta said. “We are not a commercial operation on the lake. We are a commercial operation in the city. We don’t want to be a marina.”
Earlier this year, marina owners successfully scuttled a city of Big Bear Lake plan to build a nonmotorized boat launch ramp at Boulder Bay Park. At that time, marina owners also complained about kayak rental businesses conducting operations at the park.
Steve Pontell of Pine Knot Landing, Alan Sharp of Big Bear Marina and John Saunders of Captain John’s Fawn Harbor Marina also cited the legal settlement as the basis of their argument.
“When I had my tour boat, I was told I would have to go through a marina for my business,” Saunders said. “Now you’re considering changing everything. It isn’t that I don’t want anybody to compete with me. They are going to have to do it the same way I had to do it.”
“I don’t think any one of us wants to prohibit anyone selling products in the Valley,” Sharp said. “They have every right to do that. As far as renting and delivering them, that is the job of the marinas.”
Roy Brownie of Pleasure Point Marina suggests kayak renters should work as concessionaires within a marina. “We don’t control what they do,” Brownie said about Pleasure Point concessionaires Lucky Bear Fishing Charter and Desi Wakeboard. “I’d be perfectly happy to hammer out any kind of agreement. There has got to be a way to come to some sort of solution so it works without bringing in the lawyers.”
Jory Lyle of Big Bear Paddling believes the MWD should offer nonmotorized commercial use permits. “List the things we can and can’t do,” Lyle said. “Maybe we have to charge more money than the marinas. That’s OK. There have to be ways to work together.”
Jim Dooley implored the district to find a solution. Dooley owns North Shore Trading Post, a Fawnskin company that sells high-end kayaks and canoes, and sponsors the Big Bear Paddlefest. “I promote paddling out of John’s marina,” Dooley said. “I also promote Jory’s business. I feel like I’m sitting on a fence and I don’t like it. It hurts.”
MWD board president Todd Murphy explained before the debate that no action would be taken on this first round of talks. Board members remained quiet for the most part, allowing marina and rental owners to speak their minds.
MWD board member John Eminger suggested the two sides find middle ground. “What if you had to pay a marina to launch at a marina?” he asked.
A second workshop is expected, but not scheduled.