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Oakland City Council Passes Nuisance Vessel Act to Clean Up the Estuary

Sailor and tireless Oakland Estuary advocate Brock de Lappe wrote to let us know that his and many others’ efforts to address abandoned and illegal boats on the Estuary have resulted in the Oakland City Council’s unanimously passing a new Nuisance Vessel Ordinance, with amendments proposed by Councilmember Janani Ramachandran. There will be a second vote needed later in March, to implement the plan fully.

This sailboat burned up in the Estuary, becoming a danger to navigation, and was abandoned for the City of Oakland to pay for the cleanup.
© 2023 Brock de Lappe

According to Brock, Councilmember Noel Gallo specifically asked Oakland’s lead marine patrol officer Kaleo Albino a yes or no question about whether he could perform the required work with the proposed amendments. Albino responded yes. Brock continued, “I’m told that this is the first ordinance of its kind dealing with illegally anchored inhabited vessels anywhere in the nation.”

The motivation for the ordinance comes from the environmental and navigation dangers presented by often unregistered, uninsured and poorly maintained boats that have been washing up on shore, sinking, and anchoring in or drifting into navigation channels. These vessels become a threat to the ecosystem and to rowers, sailors and others using the Estuary for boating. According to SFGate, Oakland could be fined up to $6,000/day by the BCDC, which is responsible for regulating the Bay’s environmental health and providing Bay access. The BCDC considers boats “Bay fill” and thus manages where and how recreational boats can use shoreline marinas and anchorages for recreation or limited liveaboard opportunities.

Many poorly maintained boats were becoming permanent fixtures along the Oakland shoreline.
© 2023 Brock de Lappe

Brock says he is now awaiting the engagement of the Oakland Police Department (OPD) marine patrol unit to begin clearing the Estuary of illegal anchor-outs, abandoned derelicts and sunken wrecks. This could begin as soon as the ordinance passes a second City Council vote later this month. To support the effort, Brock reports the OPD is applying for a $150,000 SAVE grant from the California Division of Boating and Waterways, though he acknowledges, “It is very unlikely that this will be sufficient funding to meet the current need, and the City of Oakland is facing a $200 million budget deficit. Despite current financial limitations, this is a major step forward. There are better days to come for the Oakland Estuary.”

Some see this as an attack on the homeless population, while others see it as a victory for the environment and expanded access for safe public use of the Bay. Finding housing for those in need is a simultaneous challenge for the city and society. Knowing there are many more old, poorly maintained boats around the Bay, we think it is unlikely that housing advocates, and all of us who care about both the Estuary and people, would suggest Oakland invite boaters to abandon unwanted boats along the Estuary shoreline as a housing solution. Uninsured, unregistered vessels with non-skilled boaters aboard are not a good option for housing. If old boats are an option it would be better to find a less dangerous place to keep them. They could be placed in Lake Merritt or out of the water in holes in parks and parking lots where they would be less subject to the weather, less dangerous to the environment, easier to manage, safer for the residents, and less dangerous to other boaters on the waterways. Residents would also have more access to public support and social services when needed. Boats do not need to be in the water to serve as housing.

Oakland Police Department’s primary police boat was locally built by Moose Boats on Mare Island in Vallejo.
© 2023 Brock de Lappe

The Oakland Police Department does struggle to fund, staff, and support their on-the-water operations. Their primary vessel is their Moose aluminum power catamaran, built in Vallejo. We just spoke with Ken Royal of Moose Boats, who let us know the aluminum catamaran was built in Vallejo and recently repowered at Svendsen’s Bay Marina with Volvo engines by Helmut’s Marine. Naturally, the Oakland Police Department is primarily concerned with policing on land and is less capable of patrolling its shores. The federally funded Coast Guard has no shortage of vessels or trained mariners, but wants to leave patrolling the Estuary’s waters and around their island to others.

Alameda Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft is also offering to help support the fund-raising efforts needed to clean up the Estuary. Alameda is also currently having a new fireboat built by Moose boats.

The Coast Guard wants to ensure wrecks like this on Coast Guard Island are Oakland’s problem.
© 2023 Brock de Lappe

We all wonder why the Coast Guard feels obligated to check many boats on the Bay for safety items and registration papers, while they don’t appear to have the same motivation for boats that are adrift, aground, or anchored right off Coast Guard Island in the Estuary. Interestingly they are now submitting a new proposal to expand the safety zone around the island to “50 yards into the navigable waters of the Oakland Estuary,” which we presume pushes the problem away from the Coast Guard and toward Oakland or Alameda.

Millions of people surround the narrow strip of water between Oakland and Alameda, so it’s no wonder there are lots of demands on its usage. We’ve been reporting on the boats in the Estuary, the Oakland A’s stadium, the proposed pedestrian bridge over the Estuary, and recently, the proposed expansion of the Oakland Turning Basin. For those who see the Estuary as a great place for families and kids to connect, to learn about the ocean, learn to sail, race, and participate in the sailing lifestyle accessed by the Estuary, these population and development pressures are worth attention. It’s active citizens like Brock de Lappe who speak up for the Bay and boaters who will help find the balance among all these competing forces and keep the Estuary open to sailors, the maritime trades, and all citizens of the Bay Area.

As we have thought, debated and pondered about housing and boats, our current thinking is that most sailors are not holding this against the people on the boats — they want to get people safely housed and also protect the environment. Clearly, we want to help the people that need it, need housing, and need a hand up. Protecting the Bay and the town budgets responsible for unregistered, uninsured boats that wash up on the shoreline is a separate issue. Secure, managed mooring fields similar to San Diego and Newport Beach should also be part of the solution. We think we’re all struggling with how to help the people and also help the Bay. As a society we should be able to do both.

9 Comments

  1. Mark Wieber 1 year ago

    Our homeless situation is always so poorly addressed. In my opinion we do not owe anybody free housing, free food, or safe drugs. All we owe is opportunity. Opportunity to get healthy, opportunity to find work, opportunity to earn your way, and opportunity to be steered toward an independent and satisfying life. Because you are “homeless” does not mean I have to let my favorite park fill up with tents, and trash, and sewage, and the unfortunate increase in crime that accompanies homeless camps. Because you are homeless should not mean you get to follow different rules than the rest of us. If you live in a car, trailer, or motorhome, it needs to be registered, it needs to be insured, it needs to be safe, and it needs to be compliant to all local rules and regulations. If you have a boat, it needs to be registered, it needs to be safe, it needs to be insured, and it needs to be compliant to applicable maritime laws. Period. Full stop. There are so many organizations out there to help those that would like to be helped. We spend millions of tax dollars. My, rhetorical, question is : where are these peoples families? Why isn’t their church helping? There is not one friend willing to lend a couch and a bath while they get back on their feet? Three or four of them cant get enough money together to share a place? You know? Like we all did in college? Given that we keep insisting people would all “live like us” if they could, and given that the government has incurable cranial rectosis on HOW to address the homeless, I just retreat to ‘boating is a privilege not a right’. Everybody should be held accountable to the same rules and regulations. Let me anchor out in the Oakland estuary for a few days, and see how fast the USCG is boarding me for a “safety inspection”. I figure I can save $800/month in slip fees and give up my once a week pump-out $160/month. Dang! I mean who couldn’t use an extra $960 a month??

    • Bruce Bennett 1 year ago

      I fully concur with your thoughts in this matter.

  2. Barry Demak 1 year ago

    Thanks for the great summary article, and for highlighting the work that Brock de Lappe has done to cast light on the issues. Tying the hands of law enforcement and interfering with the rights of the general population to enjoy increasingly rare public resources does nothing to solve the ongoing homeless crisis, not to mention the public safety and environmental issues. Further, doing nothing and kicking the can down the road, yet requiring urgent remediation of sunken and abandoned vessels, as we’ve seen recently, is far more expensive in every way than addressing it head-on and dealing with it proactively. I have empathy for the minority of illegal “anchor outs” who live respectfully of others. I sincerely doubt that OPD will prioritize enforcement against them. Additionally, knowing the compassion and generosity of the Bay sailing community, I imagine they would be met with a variety of volunteer and/or financial support efforts. As you state, the current state of affairs is neither sustainable, cost-effective, environmentally sound, nor usually safe.

  3. Jeff Adams 1 year ago

    John, regarding your opinion that “Boats do not need to be in the water to serve as housing.” Are you seriously suggesting that these boats be placed in Lake Merritt and in parking lots in Oakland? And that they would be easier to”manage”? Oakland cannot manage the the hundreds of camp that are already here in part because they are not manageable. Pardon my sarcasm, but maybe Mill Valley, or Piedmont or San Anselmo would have public parking lot space available.

  4. TRACY REIGELMAN 1 year ago

    Thank you, Brock de Lappe, for your tireless efforts. A very difficult problem to address, environmentally and socially; and a very arcane set of rules surrounding liability for derelict vessels.

  5. Chris McKay 1 year ago

    Thank you Brock and Lat38 for keeping us informed and putting pressure on all parties involved to do something. This is a problem that won’t go away and this ordinance is a step in the right direction. It is progress.

  6. Bruce Bennett 1 year ago

    Morro Bay has an inexpensive city run mooring area that is well managed. Someone should contact them to get ideas on how/where to do that here.

  7. Bruce Bennett 1 year ago

    Every year when I head out on the Bay for recreational boating, I am boarded by the CG for an inspection. I pass of course, because I am responsible and law abiding. I don’t understand why these poorly maintained boats illegally anchored in a waterway are not perused by the CG with at LEAST the frequency that I have been boarded!

  8. Stephen Carson 10 months ago

    Feeling the effects of illegal anchor outs recently from the Oakland Estuary Union Park area do to many thefts in Our marina. I spend days and night investigating a situation that seem to be swept under the rug. And yea, I question why the Coast Guard can stop my law abiding tax paying boat but fail to do anything over non-registered boats right next to their station… Pass the buck! The sad part month after month same boats, same people stealing. Honestly it all needs to change… Oakland PD Alameda PD US Coast Guard need to step up and do their part! In the mean time they steal dump waste in the water and I get boarded on a Sunday afternoon and my whole is gone thru grrrr my tax dollars at work!

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