Wave of Emeryville Marina Evictions Pushing Some Liveaboards to the Brink
The eviction notices came during the night, left in mailboxes, and tied to boats in plastic bags. For many at the Emeryville Marina, the wave of evictions were a surprise.
While some within the boating community of 366 saw this as a necessary step to rid the Marina of derelict boats, for others, losing their vessels could mean losing their homes – and the possibility of joining our region’s growing homeless population.
Wave of Eviction Notices Reported
According to several slipholders we interviewed, as many as 20 vessels were served eviction notices back in January. In the following month, another wave of boats were served their “lease termination” notices.
Some slipholders think Safe Harbor Marina management is trying to raise the profile of the Emeryville Marina so they can raise slip prices and increase revenue.
“It seemed like they were really targeting the older boats, the boats that had old, tired paint, the ones that had bottom growth, and frankly, just people that they personally didn’t like,” said one liveaboard we interviewed on a condition of anonymity. “Not troublemakers, per se, just average folk that they took issue with for whatever reason.”
The notices were served by maritime specialty attorneys Brodsky Micklow Bull & Weiss LLP who were retained by Safe Harbor Marinas. Safe Harbor is a Dallas-based organization that manage Emeryville’s Marina and many others across the county. The notices list penalties of about $60 per day for failure to vacate.
In addition to these eviction notices, several ‘warning’ letters were reportedly issued asking boaters to comply with the Marina’s maintenance regulations.
We reached out to Safe Harbor Emeryville General Manager William Dertouzos for a precise count and reasons for these evictions, but we were denied. “Out of respect for their privacy we do not discuss business operations with the media.”
Environmental Concerns Fueling Some Evictions & Departures
Older vessels can pose environmental hazards such as leaking oil, solvents and batteries. The Marina recently deployed innovative Seabin units to scoop up debris and help mitigate pollution. However, the Marina has not collected and reported data back to Seabin for “a long time” according to David Turton, Chairman of Seabin.
Properly disposing vessels is no easy task and some owners resort to abandoning them which is illegal and can incur hefty fines up to $3,000. Raising a neglected sunken vessel and subsequent cleanup can cost upwards of $10,000.
Jack Ressler*, who was given a pseudonym to protect his identity, is a former Marina slipholder who recently transferred to the Berkeley Marina. Ressler ultimately left because of what he described as the Marina’s “nonfunctional” pumpout stations. Pumpout stations safely transfer raw sewage from boats and prevent pollution.
According to the California Department of Boating and Waterways (DBW), discharging raw sewage into coastal waters within three miles of shore is prohibited and exposure can result in gastroenteritis, hepatitis, dysentery and cholera.
Since last November, the privately owned Emery Cove has lent its pumpout station to Emeryville Marina. “To raise the rents and not fix the pumpouts is ridiculous,” Ressler said.
Baykeeper, an organization that helps monitor the Bay’s ecosystem, has documented evidence of boaters polluting the Bay with sewage from their vessels. The chances of this happening increase without an easily accessible pumpout station.
“We just have this cumulative issue with all of these boats and the increasing number of boats with people living on them just directly discharging sewage,” Baykeeper’s managing Attorney Erica Maharg stated. “That’s a big public health and environmental issue.”
One Step Away From Homelessness for Some Liveaboards
With the median price of a 1-bedroom apartment in Emeryville at over $3,000 (fourth most expensive in the region), boat living can be an attractive alternative for those on lower-incomes and the frugal.
Slip lease with liveaboard fees start at about $680/mo. for a 25′ slip (up to two people). Liveaboard boats are required to be big enough to be ‘self-sustaining’ including having a working bathroom and kitchen.
Wendy*, a liveaboard who requested anonymity due to personal reasons, received her eviction letter earlier this year. Wendy notes that her notice was ‘without cause” and that the winter months are particularly challenging to try to relocate a liveaboard. Towing her vessel and deposits for a new slip could run several thousand dollars.
Wendy suffers from a disability and has been living on her vessel at the Marina for several years. The lower cost has helped her carve out a life of her own.
“I’ve tried everything I can to rebuild my life, but it’s not a kind society for someone who’s my age who has a big gap in their resume,” Wendy shared. “I can’t hold a regular job at this point in my life because my health just collapses out from underneath me all the time.”
Even though her vessel has mechanical difficulties making it currently non-operable, Wendy reasoned that the eviction notice couldn’t be about her vessel’s appearance – especially when compared to other vessels in the Marina.
“There’s a lot more grungier, older, and dilapidated vessels here than mine,” she claimed. “Is it because of my payment history? Well, I have a perfect payment history. Maybe they’re promising the slip to someone?”
Wendy chalked it up to just a personal choice that Dertouzos had made.
To prepare for the worst case scenario – homelessness – Wendy recently purchased a tent and described her current situation as being caught in the “in-between”. She now plans on fighting for her rights as a tenant by seeking legal aid.
Wendy recently purchased a tent and described her current situation as being caught in the “in-between”.
“The Emeryville Marina is trying to rid itself of derelict boats [to improve] the environment, both the social and the environmental,” said E’ville Eye contributor and liveaboard Cindy Warner. “However, if the boater is a liveaboard, it’s likely somebody disabled, elderly … or both.”
Warner notes that liveaboard status is very hard to obtain. According to staff, the Emeryville Marina’s waitlist for liveaboards is currently five years long, and priority is given to those already leasing a slip.
BCDC Agency Helps Regulate City & Liveaboards
San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) shares jurisdiction over the Emeryville Marina. Since November 1970, the City has held a BCDC permit which “authorizes [the] City to expand, improve, maintain and use the Emeryville Marina.”
Within the lease between Safe Harbor and the City, the BCDC permit requires Safe Harbor to operate and manage the Marina “in a manner that is compliant with state law.” This also includes management of the limited number of liveaboards allowed in marinas.
BCDC has set the number of liveaboards to 10% of the total number of berths at marinas, or up to 38 berths (whichever is less). Those found violating this regulation risk immediate termination.
The letter contained additional contents that addressed Marina complaints around displacement, rising slip rents, public safety, environmental pollution, and enforcement of the Marina’s rules and regulations.
Emeryville Tenant Protections Not Applicable to Liveaboards
Some boaters were outspoken that some evictions were doled out in an unjust fashion. Besides the decision to evict boaters during the coldest and rainiest months of the year, some boaters were confused as to why they were targeted. Some are now pushing back against management to fight for their tenant rights.
It has been generally agreed upon that the most effective way to combat homelessness, is to prevent homelessness. Unfortunately, many of these liveaboards may be getting overlooked by legislation intended to protect vulnerable populations.
The City of Emeryville adopted Residential Landlord and Tenant Relations Ordinance in November 2016 to give tenants more rights and make unjust evictions more difficult.
In March 2017, a letter sent to Emeryville City Council from Assistant City Attorney Andrea Visveshwara affirmed that the ordinance applies to residential housing units or dwelling units only. “Although there are boats at the Marina used as a personal residence, a boat falls within the definition of vessel, not residential unit or dwelling unit.”
“Although there are boats at the Marina used as a personal residence, a boat falls within the definition of vessel, not residential unit or dwelling unit.”
The letter also underscored that matters regarding slip rentals are considered private disputes between Safe Harbor and the slip tenant; so the City would not involve itself – even when it comes to vessel removal and pollution.
“The City does not take part in the removal of derelict vessels from the Emeryville Marina,” said Emeryville City Clerk Sheri Hartz. “While we might get complaints, we have been secondary to enforcement, as the Coast Guard and the Department of Fish and Game are the lead agencies in these matters. Also, the Alameda County District Attorney’s office has an inspector assigned to environmental crimes who may also be involved.”
According to Emeryville Public Works Director Andrew Clough, issues involving the Marina may be heard at the Public Works Committee or the Parks and Recreation Committee.
The California State Lands Commission has jurisdiction over whether or not the city is fulfilling its duties.
An Increase in ‘Sneak-A-Boards’
Maharg shared how Baykeeper staff engaged with Safe Harbor personnel from the Emeryville Marina at a recent regional meeting. Baykeeper was told that the Emeryville Marina had a high number of people who weren’t paying their slip fees. The Marina has also seen an increase in the number of people who are secretly living on their boats AKA ‘sneak-a-boards.’
“They don’t want to turn [the Marina] into an apartment complex,” Maharg explained. “They have seen an increase in the number of people who are trying to sneak below the radar and live there.”
Maharg was sympathetic to those resorting to their vessels for shelter. “Obviously there’s not enough homes for people in the Bay Area, especially affordable homes, and that creates a wide variety of issues. I think what would be a better long-term response is for operators of the Emeryville Marina, every Marina around the bay, as well as members of the liveaboard community to get together and pressure the state to come up with a comprehensive way of addressing this problem.”
Eviction Reasons Questioned by Some
“Marinas are full of characters, particularly when it comes to liveaboards,” noted Mark Wilson, who is not a liveaboard. “They’re evicting me and my boat when I’ve never been a problem.”
Wilson was given an eviction notice in February. “Even if they have a legitimate reason for trying to make their business better, they’re clearly not thinking about the people that they’re affecting.”
Wilson observed many of the February eviction notices on vessels on A Dock where his boat was berthed. Wilson claimed he never missed a payment or received any complaints since his lease began in 1997.
To find out why he was being evicted, Wilson spoke to Harbormaster Dertouzos – with little success.
“I didn’t get a very good answer other than they’re trying to basically gentrify the Marina and bring in nicer boats,” Wilson claimed. “[Dertouzos] wants to put a 62-foot catamaran that’s bigger, newer, and nicer where my boat is.”
A Microcosm of Our Housing Crisis
The Emeryville Marina clearly hasn’t been immune to threats of public health and safety. Reports of dumping, drug trafficking, prostitution, and other crimes at the Marina are not uncommon or unfounded.
To help prevent these incidences, liveaboards are placed strategically in a Marina to act as the eyes and ears of the neighborhood.
“A lot of these evictions needed to happen,” said Ressler. “There was a sketchy element around the Marina for a while.”
“A lot of these evictions needed to happen,” said Ressler. “There was a sketchy element around the Marina for a while.”
“There was a huge drug problem here,” Warner recalled. “There was a major thief [arrested] on my dock who was using a boat as a base.”
Emeryville isn’t the only jurisdiction grappling with derelict and abandoned boats. OPD recently performed a “sweep” at the Oakland Estuary by removing ten boats that were either abandoned or illegally moored. They used an excavator to remove them.
While many boaters agree that a number of evicted vessels deserved to go, there are some who remain that are questionable, and others who are left confused about their evictions. It doesn’t help that there is an air of tension when it comes to voicing out problems against the management.
“Most people will not talk because they don’t want to be targeted for eviction,” said Warner. “Many liveaboards are low-income and old. It’s hard for them to find a back-up or an alternative.”
Uncredited photos: Cindy Warner. * indicates use of pseudonym.