THE OAKLAND ESTUARY — I
n late April, about 10 sailboats on the Oakland Estuary were destroyed as part of a state-funded, Bay Area-wide program to remove marine debris. It was the City of Oakland's second cleanup operation over a roughly six-month period. A local news station video of the boats being crushed pulled at the heartstrings of many of our readers, and reignited a debate that continues to play out here in the Bay Area. Much like Richardson Bay, the Oakland waterfront is facing the pressures of homelessness, the existential crisis of a swelling population, and the slow, steady creep of gentrification. While the anchor-out population is far smaller in Oakland than in Marin, homelessness in the East Bay has been skyrocketing. Several Estuary marinas say they are plagued by an aging fleet of boats, many of which are abandoned and often claimed by people who would otherwise be living on the street. An Oakland harbormaster has said that theft has been a problem, and that homeless encampments along the Estuary's waterfronts are both a humanitarian and a safety concern. But many sailors on the Estuary are wary of gentrification, and are feeling the squeeze of a seemingly limitless rising cost of living. While a majority of these sailors admit that petty theft from the "tweaker navy" has been an occasional issue, they are also sympathetic to people who are living on the fringes. (Many sailors also worry about the fate
of the boats themselves.) Some people on the Estuary have also told us that they feel that the enforcement against anchor-outs can be aggressive. An Oakland marine officer who's tasked with regulating the Estuary said that he's trying his best to do a difficult job. As with Richardson Bay, the Oakland Estuary is endlessly complicated and deeply polarized. And as with its Marin County counterpart, the problems it faces are not strictly contemporary. During the Great Depression, as "Hoovervilles" sprang up across the United States, Oakland saw droves of unemployed people forced onto the street. "Some 200 homeless men took up residence in surplus sewer pipes in a storage yard on the waterfront on 19th Avenue," according to the Oakland Museum. "It became known as 'Pipe City'." In 2012, the East Bay Express reported on the rise in boats being abandoned and claimed by homeless people. "As the number of these ownerless boats have increased, so too have the number of homeless people who have realized how easily they can replace living beneath an underpass with living on the water; they illegally anchor out in the Estuary." The Express said that the rise in abandoned boats could be attributed to the still-recovering economy, but sailors know that the aging fleet of '70s-era plastic classics are remarkably durable (though not indestructible), but ultimately worth little money, so that a year of slip fees tends
We've heard many sailors call the Oakland Estuary a warm-weather oasis. The racing can be tight and tactical, and sailors can sail in shorts and T-shirts. But the pleasures to be had on the Estuary belie the pressures it faces.
to exceed the value of the boat. In late April, The E’ville Eye, a community, citizen-journalist-driven news site, reported that at an East Bay marina, "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." The Eye said that a liveaboard believed older, "funky" boats were being targeted. And on the day that we sat down to write this article (in mid-May), the Wall Street Journal published an article about how San Francisco's housing crisis was forcing people to live on the water. "Homelessness has become such a big problem in the San Francisco area that waters outside the city are increasingly crowded with people living on makeshift boats." The Journal said that anchor-outs "have become a growing problem in pricey coastal locales from Fort Lauderdale to Honolulu."
ur problem has the potential to be as bad as Richardson Bay," said Oakland police officer Kaleo Albino. "If I were to let one person stay, who says I can't let another person? It's either everyone stays or no one stays." Albino is effectively the lone marine patrol officer for the Port of Oakland (there is another officer who patrols the Page 70 •
• June, 2019
The June 2019 issue of the West's premier sailing and marine magazine.