The Richardson Bay Regional Agency (RBRA) seized a pregnant woman’s boat that was anchored out near Sausalito, snatching it two weeks ago while she’s living on land preparing for her baby’s birth in August.
The boat’s owner, Kaitlin Allerton, 28, filed a lawsuit in federal court against the RBRA last week and was granted a temporary restraining order, which stopped the local government agency from destroying her property.
For years, the RBRA, a joint powers authority of Mill Valley, Tiburon, Belvedere and Marin County, has been seizing and crushing boats belonging to people living on Richardson Bay, making them homeless in the process. The practice has created a combative relationship between the RBRA and the mariners, who contend the agency has no authority on the federally designated special anchorage.
In a July 25 hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Maxine Chesney, Allerton was denied a preliminary injunction, clearing the way for the RBRA to destroy her vessel. However, Allerton’s underlying lawsuit, which challenges the RBRA’s authority and seeks monetary damages, still stands.
While leaving the courtroom, Jacy Dardine, an attorney for the County of Marin who is representing the RBRA, confirmed that the agency plans to demolish the 32-foot sailboat on a yet unspecified date, which will leave the expectant mother and her family without a permanent home. Until then, the vessel remains in dry dock storage at the San Rafael Yacht Harbor, costing the RBRA $70 per day, according to court documents.
It’s not the first time the RBRA has targeted Allerton, who has lived aboard her boat, the Silver Bow, for the last four years. In March 2020, the RBRA seized the same vessel from her while she was staying on land just after giving birth to her first child.
Allerton succeeded in getting her boat returned to the anchorage after the 2020 seizure. No legal action was necessary because Allerton spoke directly with Beth Pollard, the then-executive director of the RBRA, and the harbormaster subsequently released the Silver Bow.
Both times the RBRA has seized Allerton’s property, it stated the sailboat is “marine debris.” Allerton disputes the allegation, saying the boat is valuable because of its rarity. Very few were produced and enthusiasts covet the Kendall 32, a cruising boat built in the ’70s, according to Allerton.
The curious timing of the RBRA’s two decisions to confiscate Allerton’s boat did not escape the judge. In fact, she noted it during the hearing.
“You can’t wait until every time she’s pregnant to pull the boat out of the water,” Chesney said.
Obviously, the RBRA believes otherwise. The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, a state agency, gave the RBRA an ultimatum last summer—clear Richardson Bay of all anchored out boats by 2026 or face enforcement. The RBRA opted to get rid of the boats.
According to both agencies, the boats’ anchors destroy the eelgrass, a subaquatic plant that certain animals rely on for food and habitat. The RBRA is tasked with restoring the eelgrass.
When the agreement was announced last August, the chair of the RBRA board of directors, Supervisor Stephanie Moulton-Peters, told the Pacific Sun the harbormaster would not be posting 10-day removal notices on boats while the occupants are living at the Sausalito homeless encampment or “going to the grocery store or doing whatever they’re doing…”
However, Stephen McGrath, interim director of the RBRA, said in an interview last week that all boats on the anchorage are there illegally, suggesting boats can be tagged for removal at any time. The RBRA seems aware this tougher stance might cause some image problems, which is probably the reason the agency recently hired Lighthouse Public Affairs, a public relations firm.
The tight-knit community of mariners isn’t going to leave quietly. Allerton, whose family has lived on the anchorage or waterfront for four generations, hopes her lawsuit will provide a path for others to save their homes, although Chesney’s green light to allow the RBRA to destroy her boat was a blow.
The few spectators in the courtroom were somewhat surprised the judge ruled against Allerton on the preliminary injunction, especially after agreeing that Jim Malcolm, the RBRA harbormaster, had sent confusing email communications about whether the Silver Bow would be seized, and, if so, when.
The current conflict between Allerton and the RBRA began on July 27, after Malcolm posted a notice on the Silver Bow stating the boat is marine debris and needs to be removed within 10 days or it will be seized and destroyed by the agency. Fellow mariners who were watching Allerton’s boat informed her immediately that Malcolm had tagged the boat.
Allerton called Malcolm the same day. After discussing the issue, they seemed to have reached an agreement, which the harbormaster confirmed in an email on June 28:
As we discussed, the 10 day marine debris notice for Silverbow stands. However, the RBRA will not take action on this notice for a period of 21 days ending on July 20, 2022 if the following conditions are met: 1. SilverBow is moved out of the Eel Grass Protection Zone, to the area of the anchorage south of Marker #4. 2. You make immediate efforts to sell the vessel. If at/prior to the 21 day mark (July 20, 2022) you can show that you have an offer on the vessel, or have made a sale which will result in the SilverBow departing the anchorage, or continue to make considerable effort to sell the vessel the RBRA will consider an extension to this time.
Subsequent emails from Malcolm to Allerton repeated the July 20 deadline. Yet, on July 12, the RBRA had the Silver Bow towed to the San Rafael Yacht Harbor. Malcolm sent an email to Allerton stating that her boat would be destroyed the following week.
Despite the confusion, Judge Chesney had concerns about Allerton living on the Silver Bow, including its current condition. Photos provided to the court by the RBRA showed a large amount of seagull waste on the boat.
“The pictures of the boat are pretty disgusting,” Chesney said. “It’s no place for you or a child.”
Allerton admitted she failed to keep it in tip-top shape since she moved on land for the last few months of her pregnancy. The guano is the result of the mating season for seagulls. Prior to moving back onto the Silver Bow after her first child was born, she ran into the same problem and cleaned the boat herself. The mariner community has offered to help.
Other issues surrounded the RBRA’s claims that the boat’s sails are deteriorated. Malcolm mistook a canvas boom cover for the mainsail, which is in storage and in sound condition, Allerton said. Although the RBRA stated the boat’s tiller is inoperable, it is actually tied down to prevent it from making noise, according to Allerton.
In the end, none of this was enough for Chesney. Even with the Silver Bow cleaned up, Chesney didn’t believe Allerton could find an affordable slip for the boat and said no documentation had been provided to prove the boat’s value.
In addition, Chesney said there was not an agreement between the RBRA and the boat owner because each side needs to give something of value and Allerton had nothing to give. Chesney encouraged Allerton to consider the RBRA’s new boat buyback program, which offers all anchor outs $150 per foot, provided they meet certain conditions.
Allerton has decided to stay on course and pursue damages from the RBRA through litigation. For now, she’s focused on her two-year-old son and the upcoming birth of her baby. All things in due time.