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Who Has Authority Over Anchor-Outs?

In the 100-plus-year saga of anchor-outs on San Francisco Bay, the question of who, if anyone, has authority over people living on the water has been passionately debated in the pages of Latitude, and has called into question the very nature of government. Laws about anchoring out have long been on the books, but have gone unenforced, and the reality on the water and in shoreside communities has remained in a kind of stasis, some would say a quagmire.

A handful of free-floating houseboats have been in the north end of Richardson Bay for some time. Plans are underway to move these structures off the water.
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Tim

Tempers have flared, boats have broken loose, sunk, and been destroyed, and lives have been affected, but the anchor-out community — which is mostly centered in Richardson Bay, but has also taken root in the Oakland Estuary and other corners of the Bay — has persisted for well over a century, ebbing and flowing with the economic and cultural tides. Over the past four years of reporting on this issue, many seasoned anchor-outs have told us that the majority of vessels at anchorages are unseaworthy and their occupants non-mariners — or simply, ‘homeless’, a population that is often plagued by drug abuse.

Anchored-out boats on the Oakland Estuary, just off Coast Guard Island in Alameda.
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Tim

The weapon of choice in the anchor-out battle seems to be the lawsuit. The Bay Conservation and Development Commission, which — despite protests from the annals of Latitude — ultimately has authority over anchor-outs, threatened to sue the Richardson Bay Regional Agency if it didn’t enforce its own long-standing, but long-ignored, 72-hour anchoring policy. To avoid litigation, BCDC and RBRA came to an agreement at the end of the summer: By 2026, long-term anchor-outs will no longer be allowed on the Bay. The city of Sausalito is also making plans to move its remaining “legacy anchor-outs” off the water by December 2025. Is the anchor-out saga nearing an end game?

Not so fast. The pendulum swings both ways.

You can read the full story this month’s Sightings. 


  1. thomas fritz 2 years ago

    Those in need, and living on a boat, are not there for fun. They have been kicked out with silly RV laws, no vehicle higher than 7″ may park here. I received a ticket parking in Marina – Monterey County, because I was near a beach, in an RV. I beat the ticket, only because of a technicality. But was parked there because my leg was shattered, held together by screws and I could not walk the mile to get to the beach, when walking a few steps to the bathroom was hard. They had zero accommodations for parking near the site.

  2. lKeven Kiffer 2 years ago

    As a matter of regulatory enforcement, can the bilateral exemption agreement between the BCDC and RBRA really be considered an enforceable contract withstanding statutory consistency?

    Probably not, especially from a few dozen third-party perspectives, and considering the unreasonable amounts of government activity that have been endeavoring for several years to wrangle the regulatory noose of urban condemnation around such a haphazardly situated institution of offshored marina debris. How many millions of dollars can it take to enforce a few dozen scofflaws who just won’t pay the rent?

    If the situation was all that cut and dry, the deed would have been done and over many decades ago.

    Several fundamental points of legal-type considerations do not actually fall in line with most of the enforcement narratives as they are being routinely spun about in some of the obviously subservient local press releases. This publication is one of the most independent and objective Bay Area editorial formats remaining open to contrasting public comments.

    The RBRA will have just expended $150,000 in the previous month on general salary and professional consultants fees. Efforts [have been made] to reform and rebrand the RBRA’s categorical organization, from a Harbor Enterprise Administration to some hybrid harbor/environmental conservation consultancy contracting agency. To that end, RBRA is now contracting with a special district intermediary government agency, which hired retired San Mateo harbor general manager Steve McGrath, as an executive consultant to act as RBRA’s executive director, to troubleshoot the troubling [RBRA’s] situation, which just went temporarily executive harbormasterless with the sudden retirement of Curtis Havel from the Agency. Now, McGrath will attempt to bring the Agency into it’s required status of compliance with the BCDC Agreement.

    After 35 years of operating a sub-par version of a California harbor agency, the Marin County Community Development planning agency (CDA) is finally being compelled — by threat of legal action — to install a functional Harbor Authority. But the CDA doesn’t appear to know what a legitimate harbor agency is, or what one does, or why a County with no functioning harbors actually needs a functional harbor authority.

    McGrath is only the second Maritime professional the County has ever hired, and all in the previous year or so. The other being Dave Machinski (sp?) a recently retired Coast Guard Fast 40 captain, who departed from the RBRA after about a month of perplexing duty.

    Previously, no professional has ever been invited to work within the shadow harbor organization of Marin County’s Harbor District. If Mr. McGrath can successfully pull of an audit and a special district sphere of influence performance report without tearing his hair out, he might be able to realize the total mess he’s got on his hands, and just try to clear himself of the whole ordeal, rather than applying himself to laying polish onto such a finely crafted piece of political workmanship.

    Keven Kiffer

  3. Michael Tenuto 1 year ago

    Hi my name is Mike and I am a current tenant at Union Point Marina in Oakland and i have a live aboard slip for 5 years. Liz who works for Oakland Marinas called me out of the blue one day last month and said “your boat can’t stay here you have to move”. No notice from Oakland Marinas who also just hired a new harbor master last month. My boat has been at Union Point Marina for 10 years and has had 5 different owners since coming to Union Point Marina. It is a steel haul houseboat that is registered and insured and very solid. It has never had a engine since being at Union Point. A Oakland police officer who got free rent was allowed to bring it to Union Point Marina and had it towed in 10 years ago. The boat changed hands several times, with the new owners never being told the boat had to leave. I put $7,000 into this boat by pulling it out and having the bottom done correctly. Never once did Almar/ Oakland Marinas tell me the boat can’t stay! I am not going any where because what Almar Marinas and Oakland Marinas don’t know is they are trying to do this to a disabled retired attorney!

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