"Will Work for Docking Space"

root - Posted on 31 December 1969

San Diego is gentrifying it’s harbors at the expense of low income houseboat dwellers.

by DARA AKIKO WILLIAMS, Associated Press Writer (Courtesy of Homeless People’s Network and the National Coalition on Homelessness)

SAN DIEGO (AP) - A small community of people living on weather-beaten sailboats and barges in San Diego Bay have learned to roll with the wakes of passing ships.

It's a small price to pay for a peaceful life on the water where they can drop anchor for free - and because many of them have nowhere else to go.

But now the occupants of the ragtag fleet face Port District restrictions going into effect this month that they fear could push them onto land or into homelessness.

It's not that the area known as A8 is idyllic.

``It's the worst place on the bay to be,'' said boater Lawrence Graf. ``There is no protection from the wind and the shore is a rocky bulkhead. Nobody in his right mind would anchor in this location.''

But they have, since the free anchorage was created in 1987.

About 120 vessels bob out there, including commercial tugs, some that are unoccupied restoration projects, and 40 that are home to people who just don't want to live among landlubbers.

These are motorboats, sailboats and barges, not luxury cabin cruisers. Most of the residents, known as live-aboards, have little or no income and their boats lack masts, sails or motors. Shore is a 10-minute ride on a small boat with a motor.

But the new rules say vessels in the anchorage may be no longer than 65 feet and have to be able to move on their own power.

Owners have until Sept. 22 to register their vessels and motor them to an inspection, and the port could destroy vessels that don't meet the requirements.

Port officials and harbor police contend the free anchorage was meant as a service only for visiting boaters, and claim some live-aboards dump trash and sewage in the bay.

``Our intent is really ... to clean up the area and ask the boaters to comply with the regulations. And the problem is that some of them simply can't,'' said port spokeswoman Rita Vandergraw.

The live-aboards say that's just an excuse to move them out and eventually charge fees for anchoring in A8. They say most of them use portable toilets, which are emptied into a public restroom on shore, and that the bay is so clean they fish from their decks.

``We are not the water squatters they say we are, we are not the scum of the Earth,'' said Shelby Britt.

Residents also say they are a community, helping out when anyone falls overboard or pumping out vacant boats that take on water.

``We don't have bars or locks on our doors. Everyone watches the anchorage,'' said Graf, who lives on a rusty 110-foot Navy minesweeper, Paradise, with his wife Joyce.

Unlike other residents, the Grafs have spent $100,000 over the years to make their boat livable, but it still doesn't meet the port's requirements because it lacks a motor. Rent for a mooring somewhere else could cost as much as $1,000 a month for the couple living on Social Security.

``There are no options. We have been legislated out of the bay,'' Graf said. ``The only thing we can do is let them take it. We'll be homeless.''

The harbor patrol will begin tagging vessels at the end of the month but doesn't plan drastic action, said Capt. Jim Krusen.

``We're not going to go in there and clean sweep everybody. We'll go forward with compassion,'' he said.

Britt, his wife Jodie and their poodle Muffin live on a barge that he has outfitted with electrical generators, a work shed and a studio with a rooftop sun deck.

Britt, who lives on his $600 a month Army pension, says that before he started building the harbor patrol told him he only needed sufficient anchoring and safety equipment such as life jackets and a water pump.

``They knew what I was doing,'' Britt said. ``Now, they come up to us 51/2 years later and say 'Oh, we changed our minds. You can't live here.' ... And you're supposed to say `OK, you can have it?''


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