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Oakland Shifting From Pirate Haven to Estuary Smiles?

Imagine if the Oakland Estuary and shoreline were all it should be. We’ll assume everyone’s imagination is different, so the details get messy, but creating a clean, safe, crime-free, pollution-free waterfront is a relatively easy starting point. New York’s Hudson River Park is where a vision was created and fought over for decades, but finally brought something inviting and open to more New Yorkers.

Oakland Estuary
We’ve all seen enough of the derelict boats. The Estuary is still a beautiful place to sail.
© 2023 Slackwater SF

Wednesday’s BCDC meeting showed hopeful signs of getting the responsible parties and agencies on board with restoring this valuable public space to the public on both sides of the Estuary. Wednesday’s meeting at the BCDC offices in San Francisco was attended by Brock de Lappe, Kame Richards of Alameda Community Sailing, and Steve Orosz of Marina Bay in Richmond. Additional people attended on Zoom and others emailed in public comments. 

Harbor 20 on the estuary
The Estuary has great small-boat sailing for kids both big and small.
© 2023 Slackwater SF

Brock reports that both the Oakland and Alameda police departments showed up and gave presentations. They have been cooperating and using state funds available to salvage abandoned and derelict boats that are on the shoreline or sunk. The best guess is there are about 18 boats currently abandoned on the Estuary. Alameda reports that their marine patrol boat is back in the water, and though they still have no dedicated marine-patrol officers, they are going to be giving increased attention to waterfront crime.

There is also more grant money coming, available to support continued cleanup.

The Oakland Police Department says they have now trained up to 10 more officers for maritime patrol, making increased enforcement efforts possible. The Coast Guard has also committed to increased patrol and regulatory enforcement for the boats sitting right off their shoreline.

Canoe on Oakland estuary
The Estuary is a popular and pleasant place to paddle.
© 2023 Slackwater SF

For many of the youth programs that have had safety boats and engines stolen by Estuary pirates, or other boat owners who have been victimized by crime, this can’t happen soon enough. It would be like calling the fire department when your house is on fire and hearing that they’ll have a meeting in a few weeks and start training some firemen. We all understand that government budgets and resources are strained and the wheels of democracy turn slowly, but this problem has been visible and escalating for years.

There's lots of racing on the estuary for anyone who wants to start crewing.
There’s lots of racing on the Estuary for anyone who wants to start crewing.
© 2023 Slackwater SF

It’s particularly unfortunate since de Lappe helped orchestrate a multi-agency response to the same problem in 2013. The $8 million cleanup restored much of the Estuary, but ongoing attention lapsed and the problems returned. To make this all worthwhile, it’s important for the City of Oakland to recognize the potential the waterfront brings to its citizens.

Rowing on estuary
The Estuary has been home to youth, collegiate and adult rowing programs and the birthplace of rowing champions.
© 2023 Slackwater SF

The Estuary has been the home of marinas, boatbuilders and numerous commercial and recreational businesses. California Canoe and Kayak sells and rents kayaks along the Estuary. Whale Tale Marine, Outboard Motor Shop, Afterguard Sailing and more continue to provide access and service to sailors along the Estuary. The Estuary has long been an active training area for youth rowing and sailing. It is a shame to have the egregious actions of a few become an international news story and overshadow all the Estuary has to offer. Oakland deserves better.

Sailing the estuary will make you smile.
Sailing the Estuary will make you smile.
© 2023 Slackwater SF

Imagining a shoreline that is clean and fun to sail by, row past, or ride a bike or walk along is not that hard. There are a lot of future battles about details of what it could become, but right now, it’s time to expedite and applaud whatever progress can be made. Wednesday’s BCDC meeting showed signs of progress emerging, and it’s people like Brock, Kame, Steve and many others who are speaking to make a difference. Getting it done is like a long upwind leg, but hopefully, the weather mark is not far away and everyone can head downwind soon.


  1. Linda Newland 2 months ago

    Hoping progress continues and it’s not just lip service. Indeed the estuary is a gem for all watercraft used by responsible citizens. My sailing career started there in 1970 and my connection to the estuary continues today. Sailors continue to lose ground with more commercial lucrative land use along the estuary so hoping we don’t lose more marinas and tenants because of this
    illegal disruption to civic enjoyment of our valued waterway.

  2. Marianne A 2 months ago

    Not sure how I missed this meeting but I’m so thankful to those who were there to represent us. THANK YOU for fighting the good fight!

  3. Maximus 2 months ago

    The problems here, same as on land and same as throughout both the Bay Area and all of California, is rooted in a refusal to enforce existing drug laws. “Homelessness” whether on water or land is a misnomer. These are “street dwellers” and now “harbor dwellers” whose lives are enslaved to drug addiction. Ignoring the open drug use, drug dealers and drug gangs, promoting “safe” injection sites is not only a dereliction of duty, it is rooted in corruption, not compassion. The true victims are our children, youth and all law abiding citizens. But the reality is, in California, rampant drug use and addiction is a big business. “Non-Profits” and are nothing of the sort. They are corrupt agencies diverting 95% of tax payer funded grants to themselves, while the crime and deaths are ballooning beyond all historical numbers. It is an international embarrassment. This waterfront could be cleaned up in one week if either the Coast Guard (feds) or city/county or state officers were given the authority and orders to do so. It’s not complicated, just political

    • Bruce Bennett 2 months ago

      I fully concur. I live on my boat in Alameda along the estuary. I drove to Oakland Home Depot. Along the way I traveled past beautiful homes and over a bridge across the estuary and on to a street, made a right turn and was greeted with filth, litter, homeless people, trash, burnt motor homes, junk, drug addicts, shopping carts piled high, concrete dividers then finally parked in Home Depot parking lot where an addict was passed out in the parking lot. I don’t understand how the once great city of Oakland can be so mismanaged right next to Alameda which does its darndest to keep the filth and lawlessness across the water.

  4. Steven Ingram 2 months ago

    This is a wonderful article that mirrors my thoughts exactly. A year ago we moved as live-aboards and owners of a Bay Area sailing charter business from Marina Bay, Richmond to Marina Village, Alameda. We could not be happier with the move! We took the leap and moved two boats for our business and our live aboard vessel as well. We personally have not seen or witnessed any crime on our three vessels, yet we are aware it exists and must be acted on by appropriate agencies. The outstanding marina management here, activities and incredible weather here on the estuary go far in overshadowing the stigma of pirates and plunder. The Oakland/ Alameda Estuary is a remarkable waterway in our own “backyard” that indeed deserves all of the praise and positive energy you mention. Thank you!

  5. Vince Casalaina 2 months ago

    It’s good to read that there is some progress on cleaning up the Estuary. The lack of coordination between Oakland and Alameda on the water police has been a real problem over the past year or so.

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