Similar to Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay, Richardson Bay in Marin County faces challenges with managing overpopulation of live-aboards and anchor-outs that are not complying with regulations. Both jurisdictions say the issue presents public safety and health issues in their marinas.
In response, some harbormasters, city officials and marina operators have been implementing programs to assist people living on their boats to comply with laws or connect them with services to transition to more permanent housing.
Richardson Bay, which is an estuary bordering Sausalito, Tiburon, Mill Valley and Belvedere, is classified by the U.S. Coast Guard as a special anchorage. It’s managed largely by the Richardson Bay Regional Authority under the direction of Harbormaster Curtis Havel. Its special designation means boats are only permitted to anchor out for up to 72 hours.
With the housing crisis in California, tighter restriction on live-aboards, and other anchorage sites closing, Richardson Bay became a place where many felt free to live on the water. By 2016 there were about 250 anchor-outs in Richardson Bay. That led to an increase in environmental and public health concerns, according to Havel.
As a result, over the last few years the authority and the city of Sausalito worked to remove unoccupied, abandoned vessels in the Bay. Now authorities are attempting to manage the remaining anchor-outs, which Havel estimates to be about 100 boats.
Havel said he’s working with local homeless outreach programs to individually meet with people living on the anchor-outs to assist them with improving their situation.
“How do we get folks that are ready to get off the water onto land? It’s a complicated situation and we do not have all the answers yet, but we are working towards it,” he said.
Often, when boats reach the end of their use, they’ll be put up for a lien sale, making them affordable for purchase and a place to live immediately.
“So, people will pick them up for cheap, but it’s the maintenance cost that will get you,” Havel said.
In 2019, about 100 boats were demolished by the Richardson Bay Authority and the Army Corps of Engineers, according to Havel.
“This is a supply issue. It’s not humane or compassionate to put someone on a boat that is not seaworthy or operable,” he said. “So, how do we address that?”
Still in the early stages of working with nonprofits and social services to assist anchor-outs, Havel said it will take some time because of limited staff, time and resources.
One city that Havel said is ahead of the curve is Sausalito, which in October launched a first-of-its-kind “Safe Harbor” program.
The city agreed to pay for the slip fees for anchor-outs in Richardson Bay and bring them to marinas in Sausalito. In funding the fees and needed maintenance, the city partnered with the Marin County
Department of Health and Human Services and the Ritter Center, a nonprofit homeless service organization. Together, they provide the people who are part of the program with the tools to either transition to permanent housing on land or into a boat suitable for docking at the harbor.
Sausalito Councilwoman Joan Cox said since the pilot project launched there are currently four participants, with the funding to host up to eight boats.
“So far, it is going well,” Cox said. “The purpose is to help these individuals get on their feet.”
To date, the city has spent about $20,000 on the project. Cox said, since this is a pilot project, the city is looking for additional grants to sustain the program.
The Safe Harbor program was developed in coordination with eight local marinas, and the aim is to host an anchor-out for six to eight months to allow the owner to get connected to services.
“It’s an issue of compassion,” Cox said. “We met with some of the anchor-outs and many of them want to have a slip at the dock but there is a waitlist.” The participating marinas are making an exception for these selected anchor-outs to dock at the harbor.
Havel said the Safe Harbor program provides a “great working model” of what could happen for the rest of Richardson Bay.
“I do not know if it could be the same operation here because of the volume of vessels, but there are definitely opportunities,” he said.