On the Waterfront


By Matt Morrison

For a generation of youngsters who grew up around the Newport Harbor, there’s a legacy to perpetuate. OK, maybe they’re only considered youngsters on a geologic scale, yet together they’ve accumulated decades of passion for the fabulous waterway central to our community. The goal now is to preserve it for generations to come.

Chairman Dennis Durgan

Chairman Dennis Durgan

We might compare it to fixing up a stately landmark home; the curb appeal is still magnificent but the bones need attention. Dennis Durgan can certainly relate to the analogy.

A residential real estate professional in the community for more than four decades, Durgan grew up on the harbor, beginning in the early 1960’s when it was a seasonal recreation destination. He learned to sail here, then went on to crew in three America’s Cup competitions working with both Ted Turner and Dennis Connor. Now it’s a cause for the future, and not just his own.

“There are numerous issues the harbor has, and will continue to have, as we move forward. There’s more and more people that want to use it,” Durgan explains. “I used to call it the sandbox. Well, the sandbox is overflowing with kids that want to play.”

“With all of their toys…” chimes in Val Lyon, like Durgan, a board member of the Newport Harbor Foundation, established in 2019.

Ah yes, all the toys.

Board Member Edward

Board Member Edward “Val” Lyon

“Those damn Duffys!,” quips Marshall ‘Duffy’ Duffield, also a BBC member more noted as the inventor of the popular electric touring boat. Some three thousand Duffy boats are in use around local waterways. That’s in addition to all the sailboats, yachts, sport racing shells, paddleboards, kayaks – and the list goes on. The former Newport Beach Mayor has been a City Council member for eight years, and a key ally in the harbor improvement movement.

The long-time friends and lifelong denizens of Newport Beach are only the tip of an iceberg of fellow residents focusing energy and resources on important marine issues. They believe stewardship is best directed by those most concerned; homeowners, local businesses, and recreational users.

“The goal of the NHF is to educate the public on key issues and support City leadership in creating a comprehensive, locally contained Harbor Safety Department,” Lyon explains.

The foundation hosted more than 175 guests including government officials at its pandemic-delayed kickoff fundraiser at the Balboa Bay Resort last October. The event raised over a half million dollars to seed the NHF’s stated mission to study, research, and educate the general public regarding the maintenance and improvement of the Newport Harbor as a valuable environmental, cultural, and recreational asset. The further goal is to equip the local police and fire departments with patrol boats and other equipment so that the public safety component can be fully contained under City jurisdiction.

Mayor Marshall

Mayor Marshall “Duffy” Duffield

“The harbor is this city’s number one asset and the maintenance of any asset takes proper resources, and time, and dedication,” Durgan explains. “It really is the center of Newport Beach. It isn’t Fashion Island and it’s not the peninsula. Everything revolves around the harbor.”

“Basically, we want to take it to the next level, since the City Council adopted a Harbor Department in 2018,” continues Durgan, who served as the City’s first Harbormaster. “We had no policies and procedures, at all. Because they hadn’t had anything on the harbor for four decades. It took a long time to develop that whole system. We got it up and running, and we had tons of derelict boats out there.”

Critical to the eco-health, the Newport Harbor hasn’t been formally dredged to its specified 25-foot depth since 1938. It’s a big part of why Duffield ran for City Council in the first place. He remembers a time when he regularly dug fresh clams from the shoreline. As he terms out of office later this year, Duffy’s managed to sway colleagues locally, and lobby a handful of times in Washington, DC, to help secure Newport Beach approximately $16 million in federal funding for the dredging project.

Since the 1970’s, public safety on the water has been handled by the county Sheriffs department.

“They’re in charge because the City doesn’t have any law enforcement or fire capability on the harbor,” Durgan explains. “This is one of the largest recreational harbors in the world, and we don’t have either. We have a fantastic fire department. If you have a fire at a restaurant or any facility, they can get to it by land but they don’t have anyway to get to it by water.”

With only praise for the OC Sheriff’s department, members of the NHF feel the recreational safety and business aspects around the harbor could best be served with dedicated local law enforcement that have closer ties to community. The County, in cooperation with the Coast Guard and federal Homeland Security Agency, would still oversee the broader criminal threats such as drug smuggling and human trafficking from a boundary extending three miles off the coast.

“If we can use our own police for security, and our own fire department for safety, those are key elements. At that point, we can say to the Sheriffs, ‘we got this covered’,” Durgan explains. “We don’t want them to tell us how to manage our harbor.”

For the past two decades, the Harbor Commission has served as an advisory panel to identify and remedy important issues on the waterway. Yet the slow grind of government operations has been an impediment. With the City’s newly-established Harbor Department, and citizen involvement like the Harbor Foundation, momentum is accelerating. Paul Blank was appointed the new Harbormaster a year ago.

Harbormaster Paul Blank

Harbormaster Paul Blank

A Newport Beach native, accomplished sailor and avid yachtsman, Blank previously served eight years on the Harbor Commission. A career IT professional and hotel proprietor, his leadership resume includes Rear Commodore of the Balboa Yacht Club.

“I feel tremendously supported by my colleagues in city government. They are an incredibly impressive group of professionals,” Blank says, while admitting processes can be frustratingly slow. “The best decisions for the greater community are being made. It’s a matter of priorities. I’ve witnessed the healthy discussion and the healthy disagreements.”

The Harbor Department currently has three fulltime employees and another 19 part-time workers.

“We’re going to have all kinds of things that need attention,” Durgan points out. “With the foundation, I think we can help identify those things and make contributions to support the harbor. If people have the means to donate, it’s a good cause that will resonate for generations.”

The article was first published in the June, 2022 edition of Bay Window.

William “Skip” Kenney

Newport Harbor Foundation Chairman Dennis Durgan has announced the addition of Newport Beach Harbor Commission Chairman William “Skip” Kenney to the Foundation’s board of directors.

Kenney joins former Newport Beach Harbormaster Dennis Durgan, Val Lyon, and Devon Kelly.

“As we build out our board of directors Skip Kenney’s almost eight years of service as a harbor commissioner and over forty years of business experience is a welcome addition to the Foundation’s board,” said Dugan. “Skip was instrumental in the complex redrafting Title 17 of our Harbor Code so it reflects current conditions in the bay. He listened to the multitude of stakeholders and worked with his colleagues to help create a blueprint for the harbor that helps the Foundation with our goal of taking it to the next level.”

“My service on the Harbor Commission will end next June,” said Kenney. “I am excited about transitioning to the Newport Harbor Foundation and their mission to preserve our most important asset while improving it for future generations. I appreciate the Board’s confidence in me to help realize their mission.”

Kenney has been involved in the shopping center industry for over 40 years, many of which were spent at Donahue Schriber, a well known Southern California based shopping center developer. He formed The Kenney Company in May 1995 to pursue new development opportunities and challenges.

He is a past Chairman, President, and Treasurer of the California Business Properties Association, and a past State Governmental Affairs Chairman for the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC).

He currently is the Chief Financial Officer of Balboa Yacht Club and has been serving on the City of Newport Beach Harbor Commission since 2014, including three terms as Chairman.

The Newport Harbor Foundation was incorporated in 2019 as a 501C3 non-profit educational corporation dedicated to the preservation and improvement of Newport Harbor. At a recent kick-off luncheon, the Foundation raised $550,000 towards their goal of $2.5 million to purchase police boats and fire boat for the harbor.

Original published on the Newport Beach Independent…

Board Member Devon Kelly

Longtime Newport Beach resident Devon Kelly has joined the Newport Harbor Foundation board of directors.

“Devon brings a wealth of harbor history and knowledge to the Foundation’s mission. She has spent her entire life sailing on the bay and volunteering in the community. Her boundless energy is welcome as we push towards taking our harbor to the next level for all to enjoy,” said Newport Harbor Foundation Chairman Dennis Durgan.

“I’ve sailed throughout the United States and Mediterranean and believe Newport Harbor is a treasure that needs to be maintained and managed properly for future generations,” said Kelly. “I look forward to working with the Foundation to develop programs to improve water quality and enhance the harbor’s ecosystem for recreation, boating, and commerce.”

Kelly was born and raised in Newport Beach and grew up sailing and cruising to Catalina. She attended Newport Harbor High School and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. She and her husband Gregg have two children who live locally. Kelly taught school at Carden Hall Elementary in Newport Beach, and coached field hockey at Newport Harbor High School. She has served on the Newport Harbor High School Educational Foundation and also was a Board member on the Lido Isle Community Association.

The Newport Harbor foundation was incorporated in 2019 as a 501C3 non-profit educational corporation dedicated to the preservation and improvement of Newport Harbor. At a recent kick-off luncheon, NHF raised $550,000 toward their goal of $2.5 million to purchase police boats and fire boats for the harbor.

First published at the Newport Beach Independent.

It’s been more than five decades since Newport Beach City Councilman Marshall “Duffy” Duffield started his Duffy Electric Boat company.

Duffield built his first boat when he was 16 years old. His company has sold tens of thousands of boats and become synonymous with Newport Beach, where Duffy rides on the harbor are the norm.

“I’ve had to endure decades of laughter,” he told a crowd — also laughing — on Thursday at the Balboa Bay Resort. “To be known as a builder of the world’s slowest boat is something that I really didn’t think I wanted on this planet. I wanted to be a famous sailboat designer and racer dude, and I sort of kind of am, but not really.”

Still, Duffield now hopes the Newport Harbor Foundation can also similarly be built from the ground up.

The foundation, launched in 2019 before being curtailed due to the coronavirus pandemic, held a kickoff champagne brunch Thursday.

It announced that it had raised more than $275,000 at the event, which also served as a celebration of 50 years of Duffy boats. That number was doubled to $550,000, as foundation chairman Dennis Durgan said there was an anonymous matching gift.

The Newport Harbor Foundation’s stated goal is to take back local control of Newport Harbor, which is now patrolled by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, and start a Newport Harbor Public Safety Department.

Durgan, himself a former harbormaster, said the foundation wants to initially raise $2.5 million for the purchase of a fire boat and four police patrol boats.

Continue reading at the Los Angeles Times…