Dick Spotswood: Unhealthy, unsafe floating slums on Richardson Bay must be removed

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Anchor-out boats float on Richardson Bay off the Sausalito shore. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)

Richardson Bay is one of southern Marin’s jewels. In recent years its waters have been despoiled by a fleet of unseaworthy vessels, some of which are occupied.

Portions of the bay are designated as a “special” anchorage but only for boats whose stay is limited to 72 hours. Starting in the 1960s, houseboats in Sausalito’s yacht harbors were joined by vessels anchored in Richardson Bay because it was a famed haunt for alternative lifestyle folks, then described as hippies.

As the years passed, the vibe changed but drug use remained a constant. The Bay Conservation and Development Commission finally commenced sporadic enforcement to remove semi-permanently moored anchor-outs. Their goal was eliminating environmental degradation and properly disposing of derelict vessels.

Those free spirits enamored of the life aquatic or unable to afford onshore homes vehemently protested, frustrating BCDC’s efforts. It’s no different today with ideologically based objectors clamoring to maintain unhealthy, unsafe floating slums on the public’s waters.

In recent decades, far more anchored-out vessels were unseaworthy. Other than their floating home, many dwellers were effectively homeless, some of whom endured the double diagnosis of mental illness and substance abuse.

BCDC recently stepped up enforcement, delegating the dirty work to local jurisdictions. Richardson’s Bay Regional Agency was established by Marin County government and Tiburon, Belvedere, Sausalito and Mill Valley to do the job. Eventually, Sausalito broke away and assumed enforcement duties within its jurisdictional waters.

There’s been progress. In 2019 there were 190 anchored-out boats, of which 90 were occupied. The remainder were abandoned pollution-filled hazards to navigation. Today, 103 vessels remain with 90 still occupied.

In this era of climate change, every storm leaves Richardson Bay’s shoreline littered with damaged vessels and half-sunken hulks creating hazards to legitimate navigation.

The next step is removing occupied unsafe vessels.

Sausalito has a “safe harbor program” moving anchor-outs to yacht harbors with sewage hook-ups. Unfortunately, so far only two vessel-owners relocated.

If anchor-outs can’t afford land-based residences, the law and basic morality makes evicting them proper only if they’re provided housing options.

For those water dwellers free from substance abuse and mental health issues, the county should obtain and allocate federal Section 8 rent vouchers. While that means not living on the water, there’s no inherent right to any particular lifestyle. For those rejecting vouchers, they’ll need to endure the consequences of their decision.

Mentally ill anchor-outs, like others so afflicted, face California’s mental health crisis – the principal cause of chronic homelessness. They should be promptly relocated to supportive housing onshore.


Kudos to Corte Madera for advancing community dialogue in a manner other local governments should emulate. At 4 p.m. on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month, Mayor Eli Beckman, Town Manager Todd Cusimano and department heads conduct a virtual “Corte Madera Community Chat.”

Go to Corte Madera’s website, locate the Zoom link, join the chat and ask questions with on-the-spot staff responses. Unlike public open time at council meetings, questioning isn’t limited to items on a particular agenda and can relate to all facets of municipal affairs.

Credit also goes to Tiburon’s Mayor Holli Thier who’s launching “Mondays with the Mayor” via Zoom on the second and fourth Mondays starting March 8.

Corte Madera government must be doing a laudable job as in recent years it’s mostly been out of the news. As past Marin Supervisor Al Aramburu was fond of saying, “Good government is boring government.”

With council member David Kunhardt resigning to relocate to Maine, Corte Maderans wishing to join their town council have until Monday to apply to fill his vacancy. As the council is currently all male, whoever is appointed to fill the remaining 16 months of Kunhardt’s term will likely be a woman.

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