By Joseph Mayton
Editor’s note: This story is under review following reports of challenges to the veracity of Joseph Mayton’s reporting for other publications.
Boats anchored in Sausalito’s waters for more than 10 hours are required to obtain special permission from the city to remain, but with police in the Southern Marin city to begin cracking down on illegal use of water, it could mean a number of individuals might be forced to look elsewhere for a night’s sleep.
While the law of enforcing the 10-hour rule has been in existence for 35 years, it has largely been ignored, which has given those who live on their boats the opportunity to dock for the evening. But that appears to be coming to an end, and some residents are showing support for those who use Richardson Bay or Turney basin for their evening stay.
According to the city’s statistics, in 2015, there were approximately 225 boats anchored in Richardson Bay, making it one of the largest encampments of houseboats in the region. The city also argued that a majority of the boats were in “fair to poor” condition and required repairs.
Police added that the boats are also responsible for creating pseudo landfills on the vessels, which “can cause a number of issues and environmental problems for others using the water,” a Sausalito officer said.
“What people are tired of is looking at unoccupied vessels stacked full of garbage,” Sausalito Chief of Police John Rohrbacher said at a meeting in January that was largely attended by the anchor-out community. “No one is living on them and how they got here we don’t know. That will be our first target once we get going.”
The Sausalito City Council’s move to end the de facto allowing of residents to use the water to anchor at night has left many wondering how it will be enforced and what the city plans to do if people currently living on their vessels are forced to stop.
“I don’t know what the situation will be, but to all of a sudden change how a law is being enforced doesn’t seem like a smart idea at this time when rental prices and housing costs are skyrocketing across the Bay Area,” said Osman Mahmoud, a Marin resident who says he knows a number of people who live on boats and have found safety and calm in Sausalito.
It could be a regional move as well. South of Sausalito, in Redwood City, residents of Docktown Marina, where dozens of houseboats have created a well-established community, are also under threat and have been ordered to be removed by the state. While the city council recently requested additional time to implement their removal, the end of Docktown seems near.
The city settled a $4.5 million lawsuit earlier this year that calls for it to develop a plan by 2016 to relocate the residents there if the State Lands Commission rules against its existence.
Mayor John Seybert has crafted a letter to State Controller Betty T. Yee, the chair of the State Lands Commission; Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco; and state Sen. Jerry Hill-D-San Mateo; spelling out the city’s desire to develop a legislative solution.
“It seemed like the right amount of time to figure out the next steps,” Seybert was reported to have said in San Mateo’s Daily Journal about the 15-year time limit.
But in Sausalito, councilmembers did not answer calls for additional information on relocation planning for those on the boats or how much city resources would be needed in order to forcibly remove those who violate the 1981 law.
The worry for many who call Sausalito waters home is that this enforcement of the ordinance could have long-term effects on their ability to find a place to sleep at night. Peter Romanowsky, who said that he has lived on a boat since 1983, told the council that he is fearful that if he and others are kicked out of Sausalito and made to go elsewhere, the new location could also pass an ordinance that won’t permit boats from remaining docked overnight.
“Then where do we go?” he asked. “You will push everyone across the channel and we will be in Belvedere,” he said. “Then Belvedere will pass an ordinance and they will come out and start harassing us, too.”
The city of Sausalito believes that the enforcement of the law will help ensure safety for those living on the boats and for residents of the city. “Some of these boats are hazards and not particularly seaworthy,” said Jill Hoffman, Sausalito’s mayor, at the council meeting. “It’s become an increasing problem over the years.”
Jim (who declined to give his last name) has lived on a boat since the late 1990s. “Maybe the city can come up with a compromise solution that doesn’t put people in a bad situation without the ability to go somewhere else,” he said. “Many of the boats are not really able to go anywhere and if the city begins enforcing this law, some people may become homeless.”
Mayor Hoffman’s office did not return calls for comment on whether alternatives are being sought in order to assist those who cannot relocate their boats to another location when police begin their crackdown.
But Jim is optimistic that a compromise can happen. He’s spoken with a number of public officials and believes that there is “a climate that will help people and not just start enforcing something that hasn’t been enforced without thinking of the people.”
And he is right. Richardson’s Bay Regional Agency is already discussing an initiative that would permit a permanent anchoring area in Richardson Bay. The agency, formed in 1985 by the county and Sausalito, Mill Valley, Belvedere and Tiburon, is responsible for maintaining and improving the waterways, open waters and shoreline of Richardson Bay.
“We are the municipality most affected right now and we have a different perspective,” Hoffman told the public, adding that Sausalito is working with the agency. “It’s a dangerous situation in our waters.”
For now, Romanowsky, Jim and others are waiting, hoping that their ability to lay down and sleep in peace will continue. But they are cognizant of the political debate that is ongoing in the city. At the council meeting, the city was clearly divided over how to deal with the situation.
The expectation is that it will take months and could face a legal challenge from those who live on boats. For now, it’s a waiting game.