.Anchor-outs living on Richardson Bay fear more than foul weather

A local government agency in Marin seems to have a knack for targeting the most defenseless people in a vulnerable community of mariners, including a pregnant woman, seniors and people with disabilities.

During the last six months, at least three mariners living aboard their boats anchored out in Richardson Bay have filed federal lawsuits against the Richardson Bay Regional Agency (RBRA) for threatening to seize and destroy their vessels. The basis for the RBRA’s proposed actions is that the boats are marine debris. The boat owners vehemently dispute the claim.

On Jan. 4, hearings for two different cases filed by mariners were held before Judge William H. Orrick in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California. While the RBRA retained an outside law firm, the mariners aren’t paying a dime in legal costs. Daniel Knight, who is 65 and disabled, has a pro bono attorney. Robert Roark, 76, is a pro se litigant, meaning he is representing himself.

Both Knight and Roark assert the RBRA, as well as other numerous named and unnamed defendants, are attempting to seize and destroy their boats. Should the RBRA succeed in taking and crushing their homes, the men allege the agency will violate their civil rights and force them into homelessness.

Several constitutional amendments protect Knight and Roark, according to their lawsuits. The Fourth Amendment prevents the government from performing unreasonable searches and seizures, while the Fifth Amendment guarantees the government cannot seize private property without just compensation. The 14th Amendment bars the government from depriving people of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.

Attorney David Breemer, of the Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit legal organization specializing in cases involving constitutional rights, is representing Knight and believes the definition of “reason” will be crucial to the case.

“In a legal search and seizure, generally speaking, a warrant should be obtained—but not always,” Breemer said in an interview with the Pacific Sun. “This is not just a warrant issue. The ultimate issue: What is reasonable? It’s unreasonable to seize property without due process, which is the notice and hearing before they take your property. You can’t give a person 10 days to move out of their residence. And there is no payment for the property offered here.”

Orrick seems to agree with some of Knight’s allegations, as he issued a preliminary injunction against the RBRA, prohibiting the agency from seizing the boat. In addition, he set a trial date for October, indicating he thinks the case has some merit.

Like Knight, Roark also received a 10-day written notice that his boat will be seized. In addition, RBRA Harbormaster Jim Malcolm verbally threatened to take the vessel, Roark said in an interview.

Roark contends he is anchoring out temporarily, until he completes some necessary repairs to his boat. Malcolm provided Roark with an application for a 30-day permit to anchor out in Richardson Bay, but Roark crossed out portions in red. One of Roark’s chief objections is that the permit states the “RBRA harbormaster is authorized to inspect the vessel at any time…”

“Parts of the application are unenforceable as written,” Roark said. “You cannot demand that someone give up their constitutional rights in order to gain a privilege. I’m not going to give away my civil rights for a parking permit.”

The RBRA refuses to negotiate on the terms of the permit and denies that any verbal threat was made to seize Roark’s boat. Orrick has twice declined to issue a temporary restraining order to prevent the agency from taking Roark’s vessel; however, he said that the issue will be dealt with through normal litigation. No date has yet been set.

For years, the RBRA has placed 10-day warning notices on anchored-out boats, mostly with the marine debris claim. If the owner doesn’t remove their property from the Richardson Bay anchorage within the stated period, the boat is at risk of being seized and destroyed. The harbormaster frequently follows through on the notice.

The RBRA hires a marine surveyor to determine whether the boat is marine debris; however, critics say the surveyor usually doesn’t enter the vessel and doesn’t test equipment. The anchor-outs say the RBRA has crushed seaworthy vessels.

For example, in July, the RBRA seized a 32-foot sailboat that it declared was marine debris. The boat’s owner, Kaitlin Allerton, a young woman who has lived on the water in Sausalito for most of her life, left her boat to spend the last few months of her pregnancy on shore. 

Initially, Federal Judge Maxine Chesney granted the RBRA permission to crush Allerton’s vessel, based on photos showing the boat covered in bird droppings, the surveyor’s report and the harbormaster’s inaccurate descriptions of the boat’s condition. While the RBRA had the boat stored at a marina in San Rafael, a crew of Allerton’s friends cleaned the boat. Chesney, who was presented with new photos, reversed her position. The parties subsequently reached an agreement, which included the RBRA returning the seaworthy vessel to Allerton.

Until recently, the boats were towed to the Army Corps of Engineers’ boat crushing facility in Sausalito. The vessels are now brought to other marinas around the bay to be destroyed, presumably because the boat owners have occasionally taken back their property from the Army Corps of Engineers, under the cover of darkness, and dropped anchor again in Richardson Bay.

However, most seized boats never make it back to the water. In 2010, there were 200 vessels anchored out. Then, in mid-2019, a state regulatory agency, the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), pushed the RBRA to make haste with removing the boats. The RBRA responded by declaring more boats marine debris and enforcing a 72-hour limit for anchoring in the bay. The previous harbormaster whittled the number of vessels down to 135 by the end of 2020, despite the pandemic and lockdown. Just two years later, the RBRA estimates about 65 boats remain.

Under pressure from the BCDC, the RBRA signed an agreement in 2021 requiring that all boats anchored out in Richardson Bay must be removed by October 2026. With the anchor-out eradication date approaching, the RBRA continues to seize boats, although there is a severe lack of affordable housing on shore.

The RBRA’s attorney, David V. Roth, of Manning & Kass, Ellrod, Ramirez, Trester, did not reply to the Pacific Sun’s requests for comment.

For some mariners, leaving Richardson Bay represents the death of a lifestyle, their calling to live on the water. Others say they’ve been forced out of the traditional housing market due to run-away costs for real estate in Marin. With no place to go, and more than 1,100 homeless people in Marin County, they fear they will soon be living on the streets.

Nikki Silverstein
Nikki Silverstein is an award-winning journalist who has written for the Pacific Sun since 2005. She escaped Florida after college and now lives in Sausalito with her Chiweenie and an assortment of foster dogs. Send news tips to [email protected]

3 COMMENTS

  1. Ms. Silverstein shines a much needed light on an affordable housing issue (among others) that few in Marin even know is happening. She exposes the seedy underbelly of a beautiful city whose housing costs are beyond the reach of most of us. This seizing and crushing of boats, boats that are peoples homes, rendering people homeless during a pandemic and a housing crisis is beyond the beyond and must stop. Surely there’s a better way.
    Most of us would know nothing about this as we drink our lattes in waterfront cafes if it weren’t for Nikki Silverstein.

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  2. The County of Marin as spent Millions of tax dollars and has
    State Grant Money of another $3,000,000 to rid Richardson Bay of all anchored boats in the Federal Special Anchorige. They should pay for the boats rather than paying for lawyers…

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  3. Nice article Nikki and yes it’s true the only Power they believe they have this to declare people’s livable boats as Marine debris of which is quite frankly insane and if a boat is just out there for storage purposes because somebody doesn’t want to put it in the slip and neglected and let’s It Blow Away and that’s another story and but we are talking about traditional anchored out vessels with people working and living aboard them and like I have been for the most part since first anchoring on the bay around 40 years ago and my boat has been put on a list of abandoned vessels and I haven’t left my floating home more than a few days in over 20 years and $16,000 was falsely raised to destroy my boat saying it’s abandoned from the United States government and apparently they’re willing to use the $3 million that was allocated for us on Richardson Bay to give us permanent housing or permanent status either on Moorings that can be transferred to our errors like they do in Monterey Harbor of which my late father-in-law Earnest now kittenhofen who was the senior member of the United States or the California harbor navigation commission and his name is in bronze there and yes there’s a 20-year waiting list in Monterey and but once you get a boat in there you can sell it with live aboard privileges for instance and people need hope they need salvation they need something to call their own and they’re tired of being slaves and either give us permanent Mooring status out of that $3 million dollars and give $100,000 minimum to anyone that wants to move on to shore and are fast track HUD housing, for the majority of the people anchored out on Richardson Bay are getting older and disabled such as myself because of backbreaking work salvaging and Recycling and buying and selling and trading used boats gifts outboard motors and repairing them and Recycling and cleaning the Waterfront from toxic waste and products that are thrown into the dumpsters such as explosive flares and countless cans of oil-based paints and every Abomination that you could think of that they ought Harvest could create ends up in the dumpster is a Sausalito and they are a harvest to the recyclers as well as those like myself who have drug for anchors to remove obstacles underwater that could sink visiting yachts and the Richardson Bay Regency agency administrators have been cutting are lines loose from our skiffs for instance that are left on our Moorings under certain emergency circumstances and dropping our anchors and Moors in the bay to become navigational hazard and are basically running Helter Skelter like Mindless robots and headless chickens and have been given Authority by unelected and criminal and pirate boards in our estimation from our point of view as the so-called Pirates of San Francisco Bay who are saving the last Refuge of Freedom left on San Francisco Bay for there is no other Federal Anchorage on the bay except in the middle of Richardson Bay of which has no time limit and the bay conservation and development commission has been told by the writers of the Petrus McNair Act that they have no authority over vessels and or time limits on vessels especially on a federal Anchorage of which is protected by the Coast Guard and the Anchorage the only Federal Anchorage on San Francisco Bay is a stopping point for around the world Cruisers who don’t have big bucks to go in the marinas to Winter and traditionally need to Anchor and can’t be subjected to the whims of a so-called Harbor Master given Authority by a non-elected board such as the bay conservation development Commission and the Marin County Board of Supervisors and the city council of Sausalito and the Richardson Bay Regency agency of which the enforcement arm of bcdc is rbra

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