Crack­down on squat­ter boats in bay off Sausal­ito

San Francisco Chronicle - Late Edition (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Steve Ruben­stein

Time and tide, which wait for no­body, are not wait­ing any longer off the shore of Sausal­ito.

The cops have placed bright or­ange warn­ing stick­ers where no warn­ing stick­ers have ever gone be­fore. They’ve placed them on the decks of dozens of small “an­chor out” ves­sels bob­bing in Richard­son Bay.

“Warn­ing,” the stick­ers says. “The Sausal­ito po­lice may re­move any ves­sel which has been left in city wa­ters for 72 hours.”

And that’s ex­actly what the cops say they plan to do, be­gin­ning this week­end.

“We’ve been get­ting more and more com­plaints, more re­ports of

thefts and other prob­lems,” Lt. Wil­liam Fraass said. “As the num­ber of ves­sels goes up, the calls for our ser­vices go up. And up.”

“The boats just sit there, like a gi­ant park­ing lot,” said Of­fi­cer Brian Mather. “More like a gi­ant junk­yard.”

For decades, small boats have squat­ted off Sausal­ito, their oc­cu­pants un­able or un­will­ing to pun­gle up $1,000 or more per month for the right to tie up at a tony ma­rina berth. Over the past year or so, the num­ber of ves­sels that an­chor out, or sit mo­tion­less away from shore, has dou­bled. Now about 250 boats adorn Richard­son Bay in ei­ther a charm­ing gi­ant ar­mada or nau­ti­cal home­less camp — de­pend­ing on whom you ask — within hail­ing dis­tance of the $35-aplate Crab Louis restau­rants fre­quented by the wide-eyed tourists who in­sist on re­gard­ing Sausal­ito as an artists’ colony.

On a brief cruise through the float­ing an­chor-out com­mu­nity, The Chron­i­cle saw ves­sels in good re­pair, ves­sels in poor re­pair and ves­sels about ready to de­scend to Davy Jones’ Locker. Some boats were bar­na­cle-en­crusted dross with al­gae-green hulls, rot­ted cab­ins and miss­ing paint. Their decks were piled high with what the moth­ers of the an­chor-out sailors would doubt­less call junk.

For months, Fraass has warned the boaters, at City Coun­cil and com­mu­nity meet­ings, that the city’s pa­tience was nearly scut­tled.

Long­time an­chorouter Alden Bev­ing­ton says he was evicted from his 33-foot yawl, Sanc­tu­ary, about a month ago and the ves­sel, which he con­ceded was in poor shape, was hauled off by the city and de­stroyed.

“This is a so­cial is­sue, not a law en­force­ment is­sue,” Bev­ing­ton said. “This is a prob­lem of the econ­omy. Richard­son Bay is one of the last places where peo­ple can drop an an­chor and stay.”

Bev­ing­ton, who de­scribes him­self as the “ad hoc for­eign min­is­ter” of the an­chor-outs and seems to know ev­ery­one by name, ac­knowl­edged that some of his fel­low boaters are broke, dis­cour­aged and in need of coun­sel­ing. But be­ing down and out isn’t a crime, he said, on land or on the water.

Sausal­ito, he said, prides it­self on its slo­gan of “keep Sausal­ito salty.”

“That’s what we’re try­ing to do,” he said. “But the po­lice don’t want a dia­logue. They want us gone.”

Sausal­ito Mayor Joan Cox said the an­chorouters are a “col­or­ful pop­u­la­tion and some are well-in­ten­tioned, and we have com­pas­sion for them, but they don’t have per­mis­sion to live on the water.”

She said the city did “not want to go out and seize boats, (but) this is a pub­lic health and safety is­sue.”

Boaters who rent slips at high-end Sausal­ito mari­nas such as Schoon­maker Point com­plain that many squat­ters pad­dle ashore in kayaks and row­boats to use the ma­rina re­strooms. But not ev­ery­one. And not ev­ery­thing sinks to the bot­tom of the bay. Soap floats, and so do other things.

“The main prob­lem is the lack of toi­lets,” said Har­bor­mas­ter Mike Rainey, gaz­ing out from his of­fice at the slips with the pay­ing cus­tomers and at the bay be­yond, with the free spir­its.

“In the­ory, they’re sup­posed to have their toi­lets pumped out,” he said. “I’ve never seen a pump-out boat go­ing out to ser­vice the ves­sels.”

Rainey said he al­lows the an­chor-outs to tie up at the Schoon­maker Point’s dock, use its re­strooms and toss trash in its Dump­sters.

“The al­ter­na­tive,” he said, “is worse.”

Some an­chor-out­ers know about boats, Rainey said. Oth­ers don’t. On calm sum­mer and fall days, he said, that’s not an is­sue. In rough weather, it is.

“The first big storm, some of these boats will break loose and run into other boats, or be car­ried over to Tiburon and slam into a dock,” he said.

Kirk Mor­ri­son and his friend Nick Mas­turzo pay about $700 a month to berth their 21-foot mo­tor­boat at Schoon­maker Point. They wave at their fel­low sailors on the an­chor-outs, but they’re not par­tic­u­larly happy about sub­si­diz­ing them.

“It’s a free-for-all out there,” Mor­ri­son said. “It’s a prob­lem. It’s like try­ing to solve the home­less prob­lem in San Fran­cisco. I don’t know what the so­lu­tion is.”

Lt. Fraass said the first phase of en­force­ment will fo­cus on about two dozen un­oc­cu­pied boats. Later phases, he said, could tar­get the an­chorout boaters them­selves.

The warn­ing stick­ers are the lat­est weapon to be fired in the decades­long bat­tle of at-will boat­ing on Richard­son Bay. In the 1950s and the 1980s, non-rent-pay­ing house­boaters con­ducted well-pub­li­cized or­ga­niz­ing drives to pro­tect their ves­sels. In 1971, house­boater Rus­sell Gr­ish­man pulled a knife and tried to cut the tow lines that had been fas­tened by sher­iff ’s deputies to his con­demned craft. Deputies pointed their hand­guns at him, and he de­cided to put his knife down.

The new warn­ing sticker pol­icy fol­lows Sausal­ito’s de­ci­sion in 2016 to pull out from the Richard­son Bay Re­gional Agency af­ter some res­i­dents com­plained that its board, made up of city and county of­fi­cials, wasn’t do­ing enough.

“We’re fo­cus­ing strictly on the un­oc­cu­pied ves­sels,” Fraass said, be­fore quickly adding, “at this time.”

San­ti­ago Me­jia / The Chron­i­cle

The an­chor-outs, ves­sels that sit mo­tion­less in Richard­son Bay off­shore from Sausal­ito, are like a nau­ti­cal home­less en­camp­ment with health and safety is­sues.

Jes­sica Chris­tian / The Chron­i­cle

For­mer an­chor-out res­i­dent Alden Bev­ing­ton looks down into the liv­ing quar­ters of Greg Baker’s boat, the CA Marcy, among the hun­dreds off Sausal­ito.

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