SAUSALITO (KPIX 5) — The waterfront home to bohemian artists for generations, the water off Sausalito still attracts people quite content to live not on the pricey hillsides but instead as part of the flotilla of boats anchored in San Francisco Bay.
Now, after decades of turning a blind eye to the boats that float for months and sometimes years at a time, there’s now a renewed effort to remove them. And while some in Sausalito and Tiburon would like to give the bay a clean sweep, others want to offer these boat-dwellers a safe space to keep their vessels, as well as their lifestyle.
Jeff Jacob has been living on his boat here for nearly 20 years. The self-described freelance journalist and contributor to the “Anchor Out Chronicles” says fear of being homeless is an issue for most on the water. So Jacob and other ‘anchor out’ owners are pushing back against the recent effort to get these boats off Richardson Bay.
“Some people are very happy out there. some people certainly would take shelter,” said Jacob. “Homelessness is a big issue now and this group of people are homeless, but not boat-less.”
Larry Goldzband, Executive Director of the “Bay Conservation and Development Commission”- the agency that oversees everything on and in the bay – says that after decades of turning a blind eye, the state and the Richardson Bay Regional Agency want to see all these boats that have been anchored in the bay for years gone.
“Boats should not be there for years and years and years, especially boats that aren’t seaworthy,” explained Goldzband. “The bay is not for living on. There is a bright red line. We don’t put housing developments in the bay, we don’t put shopping malls in the bay, we don’t put movie theaters in the bay. We don’t let people live on the bay because that’s not what the bay is for.”
Goldzband says he doesn’t blame boat owners for what’s evolved here.
“Neither, candidly, the local governments nor BCDC have adequately enforced the law over the last 20 years,” asserted Goldzband.
A complicating factor is the different cities that have jurisdiction over Richardson Bay. Belvedere, Tiburon, Mill Valley, even the County all have a say about what happens in the Bay, And a while back, Sausalito withdrew from the Richardson’s Bay Regional Agency (RBRA), which is supposed to oversee the enforcement efforts out on the water.
So while the RBRA currently studies a way to install permanent moorings for these boat owners as a way to minimize environmental damage to the bay, many boat owners object to any oversight, let alone eviction, according to Jacob. Separate from the RBRA, Sausalito has already removed many of the abandoned boats in its jurisdiction.
“We’ve gotten rid of marine debris, we’ve gotten rid of unoccupied boats, “declared Sausalito Councilmember Joan Cox.”We’re down now to 18 boats, 16 of which are occupied.”
Cox says the city’s new plan would get as many as eight boats off the bay and into slips at local marinas. Sausalito approved $25,000 to start a program that subsidizes slip rental fees.
“If we bring them off the water and onto a slip now they’re stable,” said Cox. “And they can actually go get jobs and take care of themselves.”
Manager Jim Madden at Sausalito yacht harbor has signed on to take in two boats.
“We’ll find out. We’ll try it. We’ll find out,” said Madden. “We’ll do our best to make it successful. Hopefully it works.”
Meanwhile the BCDC will be watching to see if those boats disappear and making sure others don’t take their place. Goldzband is curious to see how it will all play out.
“The key for our commissioners is going to find out what Sausalito’s solution is,” said Goldzband. “How workable it is, and in what timeframe it can be accomplished.”
But for owners like Jacob, it still might be a tough sell. “You can live on a boat,” said Jacob. “But you can’t sail a house.”
Sausalito has just approved the first two boats for its “safe harbor” program and others are waiting for final inspections to make sure they’re seaworthy.
The city also says if a boat owner refuses to come in off the bay it won’t force them to leave. However, if a boat leaves, a new one will not be allowed to take its place.