With the departure of Docktown Inc, in March, Redwood City officials found themselves managing their own waterfront property for the first time since the Harbor was created. Docktown residents were cautiously optimistic. The former management company had provided minimal repairs, and no improvements, blaming it on their own month to month leases with landowners and the city. The city promised improvements.
Then the city insisted that everyone in the Harbor file new a application to be there, even residents who have lived there for more than 20 years so they “could understand who lives here.” After that they presented everyone with a new 32 page lease that ignored the reality that Docktown is not a traditional boat Marina, but rather a community of people who live on the water.
Calling all residences “vessels” it required, among other things that:
“Vessels” could only be used for “pleasure and recreational purposes”, and that ….”no one can live on the vessel at any time without express written permission from city” and “if granted shall be limited to two persons per vessel...”
“Hello, what’s this?” said residents like Tom and Melissa Heyes, who live in a three story floating home with their three children. "Recreational purposes? Two persons?"
“….the vessel will be maintained in a ‘seaworthy, operable condition’ said the lease, ..with regular maintenance of ‘all bright work, rigging, safety equipment and any other appurtenances of the vessel’ .
“Seaworthy? Brightwork and rigging? ” said residents incredulously, “Do they think my home is a sailboat? And meanwhile the city shall be sole judge of the adequacy of the vessel's condition, maintenance and appearance.”
In addition the City required that all residents give them a lien on their homes!
Outraged, the residents took on the task of creating a more acceptable lease modeled on the floating home communities in Sausalito. But that was rejected outright by Community Development Manager Bill Ekern, who said emphatically that he was unwilling to recognize the residences as anything other than “watercraft” as he wanted to establish that residents were to be governed by Maritime law and have no property rights.
Instead the City hired a Maritime attorney to update their own license agreement, sweetening the offer with a year’s stay in the harbor in exchange for accepting their restrictions. City officials agreed to meet with representatives from the homeowners to hear their complaints. But after accepting a few minor changes they abruptly announced negotiations were over, and said all residents must sign the new “license agreement” as is by July 1 or face eviction.
By signing the agreement, according to their attorneys, tenants accept that their homes are “watercraft” that can be moved around at will and once the year is over, removed from the Harbor with 60 days notice, with homeowners responsible for any damages incurred.
Nor does the city guarantee residents access to their own berths, or parking, water or utilities, and can even turn off water and power if the City decides they are being wasteful.
“There is no other harbor that will take us”, says floating home owner JoAnn McDonnell. If we have to fight them over evicting us, our attorney says it’s better to have that fight now instead of after we sign a license giving them the right to do that.”
Residents theorize that the city wants to be able to evict them with no impediments once the lease expires if the “Precise Plan” now being developed for the area by the city rejects a floating community at Docktown, which will take them at least a year.
“The City has an obligation to recognize that the property the home is sitting on is its (sic) and it must have the ability to do with its property what it views as necessary. It is a very complicated situation,” said Ekern in a letter to McDonnell.
And about to get more complicated. Many residents say that until the city reopens negotiations and works out an agreement with them they can live with they will not sign the new lease.
Lee Callister is the President of the Redwood Creek Association, which represents the interests of the people who live in the floating community at Docktown.