Getting to Know the New Harbor Director

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

April 7, 2023

Over the past 30 years or so, Morro Bay has had numerous city managers and police chiefs but only three harbor directors.

And with the retirement of Eric Endersby last December, the last person to lead the department, the new guy, Ted Schiafone, comes in at a challenging time for arguably the most important department of City government.

The Morro Bay Harbor is the jewel of the community, developed with a slew of retail stores, boutique motels and and a myriad of fine restaurants. The Embarcadero business district is a big generator of sales taxes and bed taxes for City Hall as well as generating all of the Harbor Department’s annual budget.

For Fiscal Year 2022-23, the Harbor Fund operating budget listed $2.36 million in revenues versus $1.91M in expenses leaving a net surplus of $442,000.

Its revenues derive from harbor leases ($1.85M — payments by master leaseholders and sub-leasers); boat charges ($413,000 — live aboard and other harbor services, pier dockage, mooring, slip, and floating dockage rental, slip sublease, and skiff permits); other charges for service ($73,000 — launch ramp parking, coin-operated services, and other rentals); and, other revenues ($24,000 — grants, penalties, bad debt recovery, auction proceeds, and miscellaneous revenues).

The Harbor Department has always been hampered by limited revenues expected to do too much, and at no time is that more prevalent than now, as the department has preliminarily identified about $10 million in needed maintenance and repairs to its infrastructure, a number that has surely climbed this winter after a series of storms wreaked havoc with the docks, piers and rip rap seawalls. 

So Schiafone comes in at a key time for the Harbor, and luckily he brings a lot of experience in both the private business sector and government. 

Estero Bay News sent a series of questions to Schiafone, who at the time was in Washington D.C. for the Annual California Marine Affairs and Navigation Conference (C-MANC) a week-long set of meetings where the association of California ports and harbors gets to talk with lawmakers and lobby the various agencies for things like dredging monies, which is Morro Bay’s main reason for attending.

Schiafone, who laughed when asked how old he is, said he was born in Red Bank, N.J. “On a river that could take you to the Statue of Liberty,” he replied. “It’s on that river that I developed my love for being on the water. I had a friend in high school that taught me to waterski, and that sport became a very big part of my life.”

He has a sister in Walnut Creek, Calif., which he said is a lot closer to Morro Bay than Oceanside where he was before getting the Morro Bay job. 

He’s married with four grown children that are scattered across the U.S. 

“My son and his wife work for companies in the Bay Area, but recently received approval to permanently work remote,” he explained. “They live on Ft. Myers Beach, Fla. My eldest daughter and her husband just relocated to Chicago. My middle daughter and her husband live in Bradenton, Fla. And my youngest daughter lives in Nashville, Tenn.”

Finding housing in this area is tough for anyone and the Schiafones were lucky enough to find a home to rent. “We moved immediately to the area,” he said. “My wife wanted to live close the coast and be in a home. We decided to rent a home for a year so that we can learn the area first before buying. Finding a single-family rental home turned out to be difficult as there weren’t many options. But fortunately, we did find one and we were able to move from our home directly into it.”

His college days started out in New York. “I went to Upsala College, just outside of NYC,” he said. “I earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration.”

Like many young college grads, he didn’t know what he wanted to do and developed a bit of a travel bug. “After college,” Schiafone said, “I did not have much direction on what I wanted to do, so I bought a van and travelled out to California with my hang glider and soared many of the coastal ridges from San Francisco to San Diego.

“After I ran out of money, I drove across the country to Florida and applied for a position as a professional show skier with Sea World.

“While show skiing I decided to continue with my education. I obtained an MBA degree from Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla.”

With all that time spent on the water, he naturally decided to go into banking. “Before my marina career,” he explained, “I took a position in banking. I spent a couple of years as a treasury management consultant for many of the larger companies in Florida, including Disney World.

“I then transitioned to the retail side of the bank as the regional branch executive for the West Coast of Florida. During my banking career, I was involved in approving loans and began seeing opportunity to build self-storage facilities. Because those businesses require little staffing, I continued in my banking career.”

As just about any businessperson knows, storage facilities are one of those must-have businesses for a nation that’s just got too much stuff. But by chance he came across an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. 

“I then came across an opportunity to purchase a very old and worn-down marina on the Gulf of Mexico,” he said. “I wasn’t really interested in the marina, but I knew the property was valuable, and I loved anything on the water. Without much thought, I purchased it and then learned it had significant environment issues and had never permitted the docks in the water.” It was sort of like buying a boat, which of course stands for — Break Out Another Thousand.

“The docks were important to the value of the property,” he said, “so I left banking to spend full time mitigating the environment issues and obtaining the proper permits for the docks.

“I ran the old marina for five years getting through all the problems. I spent the next few years designing, engineering, permitting, and building a 5-story indoor, dry stack marina. Eventually, I sold the marina and other real estate development projects.”

A chance to change direction soon came up “A few years later,” he said, “an opportunity came my way to be the harbor director for a municipality on the East Coast of Florida.

“I thought it would be ‘fun.’ While it was fun, I realized how challenging it is to run an enterprise business within the world of government. After a couple of years, the opportunity in Oceanside came up.”

He was hired as the Oceanside Harbor division manager, starting at the top. Oceanside Harbor, he said, has 1,000 slips, a 6-lane boat ramp, a small commercial fishing fleet, a vibrant sport fishing fleet, 22 real estate leases, and the City’s largest beach. Oceanside is a city of over 172,000 residents and is in San Diego County.

His duties didn’t include helping Oceanside’s Harbor Patrol with search and rescue operations. “I was responsible for the harbor patrol in Oceanside,” he said, “but I was never a harbor patrolman. My boating experience relates back to water skiing. I was very involved in tournament water skiing and was a certified driver and judge. I could not even count the number of hours I have spent in the drivers’ seat of a tournament ski boat.”

Oceanside is different than Morro Bay and one of the biggest differences is that here there is a large Coast Guard presence with the Coast Guard Station Morro Bay. “Morro Bay is very fortunate to have a Coast Guard station on site,” he said. “I have seen our harbor patrol work closely with them, especially as it relates to communications. The closest Coast Guard station to Oceanside is the Port of San Diego, which is over 35 miles away.”

Over the past several years the Morro Bay Harbor Patrol has dipped its toes more into the pool of law enforcing on the water especially with environmental issues, while still conducting maintenance, boater assistance, search and rescue and more. 

“Harbor patrols are about safety and education on the water,” Schiafone said. “Of course, when there is egregious disregard for laws, then enforcement may be the necessary step. In my experience, most people out on the water do not intend to break laws. That is where education is key to ‘policing’ the waters. 

He “absolutely” wants the Morro Bay Harbor Patrol to continue with its reputation for being very helpful to the boating public. “I would say that Morro Bay Harbor Patrol does an outstanding job on the water,” he said. “I have been out with them on a few occasions, and they continually engage with the public. They ask them questions, inform them of possible issues and look to see they have safety equipment. I know that the purpose of this engagement is to educate and prevent a possible incident on the water.”

The public Harbor facilities, those owned by the City have been in the news of late, particularly with the last election when voters were asked to add a $10-per month parcel tax to the property tax rolls to pay for maintaining public Harbor facilities, a measure that failed to garner support. So while the maintenance needs are great, there continues to be no revenue stream to pay for it. One facility sticks out. 

“The boat ramp is definitely in need of replacement,” Schiafone said. “It’s my understanding a Department of Boating and Waterways Grant was available for replacement, but the State required other areas of the parking lot and restrooms to also be replaced. Since the Harbor was required to fully fund those other costs, it wasn’t possible to go forward. We plan to submit another Grant application in early 2024 that hopefully will fund the entire boat ramp replacement.”

The maintenance needs have been made worse with this winter’s fierce storms. 

“Harbor docks, pilings, revetments, and seawalls all sustained damage from the January and March storms,” Schiafone said. “We are in the process of getting estimates to repair. We must ensure these docks are safe and usable soon, or we will lose revenue by not being able to rent them. The Harbor in cooperation with the City is filing an Insurance and FEMA Claim. Hopefully, we will receive reimbursement for this damage.”

He will turn his attention to the funding issue. “After four weeks on the job,” he said, “I am still absorbing and observing. The problem is a simple math equation. We don’t have enough income to support operations, maintenance, and capital improvements. 

“The solution is much more complicated. I know that we need more sustained annual income. Where that comes from will take some time. Input from our stakeholders and residents will help guide this.”

Another change that has risen a few times over the years is turning over the lease site property management to City Hall or contracting with a private management company. But Schiafone said that is currently not being considered. 

He is looking at the department structure. “I’m still in the learning stage,” he said. “I do know from my experience running businesses in the private sector, that having the proper organizational structure and staffing level is necessary to run a successful business.”

The City administration has indicated this is a priority. 

“Developing the right organizational structure and long-term planning are two of the areas that City management has indicated are essential to our success,” he said. “I’m looking forward to working with our new City Council and Harbor Advisory Board to understand their recommendations for the harbor.”

Morro Bay’s main industry on the waterfront has traditionally been commercial and sport fishing, with tourism taking a growing role every year. And in the future, offshore wind energy is likely to play a large role in the harbor.

“I recognize the difference of Morro Bay Harbor,” Schiafone said. “Morro Bay has a long history as a commercial fishing village. Commercial fishing in California has been hammered by more and more regulation. In talking with residents and other stakeholders, they have a desire to maintain that character. I do too. I believe it’s very possible to update our facilities without losing that character.”

The Harbor Department has seen its needs for things like maintenance increase but has never really had money to do serious planning, for instance a capital improvement list. Schiafone recognizes the importance of planning. 

“Safety is the number one job of every harbor director,” he said. “Planning is number two. My job is to ensure Morro Bay has a path to sustain itself so our children and grandchildren can enjoy Morro Bay Harbor the same way as we do.

“We need to be very thoughtful in how to move forward. All of us need more information regarding offshore wind before making any judgment.”

This was his first chance to represent Morro Bay at the C-MANC in Washington, though he’s attended it before representing Oceanside Harbor. It apparently went very well.

“The C-MANC conference was very good,” he said. “We had the opportunity to meet directly with our state representatives and request funding for dredging. We had asked for $4 million this year [2024] but also made a request to ensure we had the funding the following year [2025] to dredge back to the boat ramp.

“We learned just last week that Congress was recommending we receive $14.5 million for 2024, ensuring we can dredge to the boat ramp one year early!”

The channel he speaks of is called the Navigation Channel and the last time it was dredged was with the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) under then-President Barak Obama. Former long-time Congresswoman Lois Capps was instrumental in garnering that money.

They also had a chance to speak with the Federal agency overseeing the offshore wind energy leasing. “We met with BOEM [Bureau of Ocean Energy Management] and discussed offshore wind. BOEM is only responsible for developing the leases. The actual administration of the leases will end up with BSEE. I believe more information will come over the next couple of years. 

BSEE stands for the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and is charged with overseeing the offshore energy industry [oil platforms] on the outer continental shelf.

The companies that won the bids for lease sites in the ocean off San Simeon, north of Morro Bay, are expected to want to bring the power ashore in Morro Bay and use the harbor for a base of operations, mainly monitoring and control operations as well as crew boat moorings. 

The wind farms will need a deep water port and adjacent work areas — perhaps as much as 40 acres — where they would assemble the wind turbines and then tow them to the wind farm site to be installed. The turbines are from 600-feet to over 800-feet tall depending on the capacity, i.e. the more output they have, the taller they have to be.

If the companies are going to use Morro Bay, significant upgrades will have to be made to Harbor facilities. Indeed, the City has already been granted over $1 million for improvements to the North T-pier that have yet to be formally identified.

As for the wind farms, the companies are just getting started on environmental impact studies to include sonar mapping of the seafloor.

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