Open Mic

Of Boats & Bay Fill

By Julia Gilden

AT A HASTILY CONVENED MEETING last Friday, Assemblyman Joe Nation heard from Sausalito’s floating community regarding his bill to clamshell “derelict” vessels. With 24 hours’ notice, 80 residents from boats, floating homes, and local land-based dwellings packed the Bay Model’s main meeting room to explain basic waterfront facts to the environmental assemblyman.

AB107 would amend an existing state law to control derelict vessel removal. But the new version extends the definition of derelict to include illegally moored and unauthorized vessels. In addition, Nation’s bill would raise the value of “derelict” boats from the existing $300 to $2,000, as determined by unknown persons, charge the owner for the boat’s destruction, and impose a fine, thus creating a new category in the state’s Criminal Code.

According to Richardson Bay Regional Authority administrator Bill Price, harbormasters up and down the state were consulted about the bill’s language, but he acknowledged that vessel owners were left out of the loop. While the bill’s instigator, Tiburon Mayor Andrew Thompson, stressed that the intent of the bill was to clean up beached hulks, the consensus among those attending was that the new law, as written, would give officials global authority to demolish floating communities.

The Bay Conservation and Development Commission’s claim that boats are “bay fill” has put pleasure craft owners, marina managers, and vessel dwellers at war for over 30 years with a state agency whose mandate is to protect the San Francisco Bay’s ecology and to prevent developers from encroaching into tidal areas. Since there are few, if any, “legally moored” or “authorized” vessels throughout the bay, AB107 would provide an enforcing mechanism for the BCDC’s efforts to remove boats at will. But according to the authors of the McAteer-Petris Act, which established the BCDC in 1965, vessels were never intended to be defined as “bay fill.”

Nation says it was a coincidence that his bill’s language matched the BCDC’s new proposal to remove 90 unauthorized vessels anchored or moored in Richardson Bay within a year. But as Waldo Point Floating Homes Association representative Suki Sennett points out, since Waldo Point has not had its permits renewed since 1992, all of Waldo Point’s floating homes could be defined at “unauthorized vessels.” Permit renewal is tied to certain improvements and trade-offs concerning a small co-op of floating homes existing since Sausalito’s heyday of creative houseboats.

Relying on a legacy of waterfront property interests and political deals, both Nation and the BCDC seem uninterested in working with existing federal laws regulating vessel use and navigation, including anchoring. As one boat owner quipped, “When I sail to Mexico, does my boat become ocean fill?”

Julia Gilden is a journalist and photographer who resides anchored out in Sausalito.

From the June 21-27, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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