Harbor Office Gets a Makeover

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.

October 24, 2023

The Harbor Department held an open house Oct. 11 to showcase their remodeled office.

The Morro Bay Harbor Department held an open house last week to show off the many changes and improvements they’ve made to the old Harbor Office building.

And what a transformation it is, as the old one-time house that was moved down to the waterfront from uptown over 50-years ago didn’t increase one square inch in size, but the interior is hardly recognizable.

They didn’t knock down any walls, Schiafone said while giving a tour. They got new flooring, furniture, and rearranged the inside with room dividers.

Harbor Patrolman Dana Stein, was all smiles standing in their remodeled office.

The makeover turned the front office area into a receptionist desk, customer counter and office space for Harbor Director Ted Schiafone. 

Now the harbor patrol officers each have a desk and computer; Harbor Patrol Chief Becca Kelly and Business Manager Lori Stilts each has her own cubicle; and the old office of the harbor master is now a conference and break room.

They replaced the solid door that used to separate the interior but was never closed, with a 2-part Dutch door. 

Harbor Director, Ted Schiafone, explains the layoput of the front area at the Harbor Office.

People would just walk right in, Schiafone said. Now they can close the bottom half of the door and have it become a true barrier.

Schiafone said while they didn’t increase the square footage the interior has more space and is better organized. As for giving up what was a sizable office space, Schiafone said, “I don’t need much space.” He added that the receptionist area “looks more professional and is more efficient in its use of space.”

The exterior was a mess. Schiafone said there were an amazing number of wires running on the outside of the building, leftovers from various upgrades in technology that have come to the harbor department over the decades they’ve used the building.

The contractors removed the outside siding, which was in rough shape, re-ran all those wires, wrapped the building in Tyvek and then put up new siding. 

This ‘before’ photo shows what the Harbor Office looked like before the recent makeover.

They painted it grey with white trim. They put on a new roof, which Schiafone said his son-in-law works for the rooifing company, GAF Roofing, “so we got a little bit of a deal,” he said. The place looks brand new. They even have a new “Liar’s Bench” out front.

Missing is all the flotsam found in the bay over the years, like floats, mooring balls, propellers, anchors, cleats and more that used to sit by the front door in a static display. He said they would probably start a new collection for display.

He explained that they bought all the cabinets and furniture at Home Depot and the crew put it all together, saving a lot of money.

The department has long wanted to build a new office and most recently, had a plan penciled out to build a 2-story structure on a small parking lot and public restroom next door. That project would have built a new public restroom but cost far too much for them to handle, especially after the Coast Guard, which the City wanted to charge extra rent to pay for its own new office, instead put an addition onto the existing building to serve as crew quarters. The USCG’s rent went up a little but not enough to finance a multi-million-dollar project.

A new office was estimated to cost $1.5 million “in today’s dollars,” Schiafone said, and take 10 years to get permits and build, so by then, the cost would likely be considerably higher. 

“My position was to make improvements on what we have,” he explained.

Also of note, the building was long rumored to have asbestos flooring and lead exterior paint, but turned out not to have either. Asbestos and lead paint require special handling and safety precautions and would have added countless more to the makeover’s costs.

The department got a $10,000 donation from the Friends of the Morro Bay Harbor Department, which was on hand at the open house promoting their newest goal — buying a 4-wheel drive UTV for the lifeguards to use on the beach (see: https://friendsofthembhd.org). 

The Harbor Department, Schiafone said, spent $50,000 and “a lot was on the furniture. There’s a lot of history in this old building.”

The department is now turning its attention on a big project that outside organizations have also contributed greatly to. Schiafone said they got a $100,000 donation from the Commercial Fishermen’s Organization and $200,000 from the Joint Cable/Fisheries Liaison Committee to be used to make repairs to the City-owned slips that it leases to commercial fishermen. 

Is that enough money? “It’s hard to tell total costs,” Schiafone said. That’s because repairing docks is a little like fixing up an old house — in that you can’t know the extent of the repairs needed, until you start tearing into it.

“We’ll have to remove them and turn them over,” he said of the floating finger docks. “I can’t guess, but it’s going to be a big amount.”

Fixing those docks is the next item on what’s grown to be a big list of needed repairs and upgrades to City-owned harbor facilities. 

That list topped $10 million less than 2-years ago when a trio of local men managed to get a property tax increase of $10 a month on private properties onto the ballot. 

But Measure B-22 failed to garner enough support and left the Harbor Department looking for revenues.

Another big future job will be upgrades to the North T-pier in anticipation of the large crew boats that will moor here if and when the offshore floating wind farms are developed. 

The Federal Government allocated $1.5 million towards that effort and the City has met a couple of times with the companies that won leases for the wind farms.

They are supposed to come up with the upgrades that will be needed, though Schiafone said the pier’s decking isn’t a problem. The main issues are the electrical and water service at the T-pier and the fire suppression system.

Schiafone said they hired Brady & Assoc., a renowned marine engineering and construction firm in San Diego to analyze what will need to be done. Once they get that report, he added, they will formalize a plan and get started on it.

It’s likely, given the support of the wind farm project at both the State and Federal levels, that more money for the needed T-pier repairs would be available.

And the wind companies could be expected to put money into it too.

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