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Houseboat owners seek secure long-term leases

By Hank Sims Daily Planet staff
Saturday January 12, 2002

Houseboat owners who live at the Berkeley Marina are pushing their landlord – the city – to give them a lease. 

For about 35 years, owners of “floating homes” have had a month-to-month relationship with the city. The city could conceivably evict them from their berths at a moment’s notice. 

“We always felt that we were in an insecure position,” said Roger Boyvey, who has lived in his boat at the Marina for 32 years.  

Now, just when it appeared that the houseboat owners were on the verge of securing long-term leases on their berths, it appears that some city staffers may be having second thoughts about the deal. 

The Berkeley Marina Residents’ Association, a neighborhood group comprising residents of the 13 houseboats docked at the Marina, has composed a draft lease with the help of city staff. They presented the proposal to the Waterfront Commission during its regular meeting Wednesday. 

A report by Waterfront Manager Cliff Marchetti was presented to the commission at the same time. 

“It is not clear that there is any benefit to the city or Marina to institute a lease agreement program,” wrote Marchetti – a sentiment that has caused houseboat residents to question whether the city will look favorably upon the proposal. 

Boyvey said Marchetti’s position on the issue confused him, because, he claimed, staff members in the Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Department were the ones who proposed the lease arrangement in the first place. 

“We were so shocked when we went to the Waterfront Commission and they had recommended that the lease not be approved,” he said.  

Marchetti could not be reached for comment on Friday. 

Brad Smith, a member of the Waterfront Commission, said on Friday that he was equally surprised at the commission meeting – surprised that the members of the Marina Resident’s Association had assumed that the lease was a done deal.  

“What became apparent at the meeting is that they believe they were in negotiation for the lease,” he said. “The commission hadn’t realized that things had moved along that far.” 

Smith said that there were several reasons why the city may not want to lock itself into a lease with the owners of the houseboats, and that the commission would have to study the matter further before it could commit itself. 

“The disadvantage is that the lease locks us into floating homes well into the future, which may not be in the best interests in the Marina,” he said.  

“The Marina itself might evolve. There may be other things that make more sense for Marina development.” 

Smith said that the granting of leases to the houseboat residents may also create poor precedents for future relationships with boat owners, particularly with “live-aboards,” people who reside at the Marina on sail or motor boats. 

“As you begin to grant those kind of rights to floating home owners, live-aboards may start to make similar noises,” he said.  

Smith said that he was not sure which way he would vote on the issue, and said that there were a number of potential advantages to providing the leases, too. 

“The marina may be advantaged by having the floating homeowners there,” he said. “They provide a presence – they keep an eye on things.” 

Rick Foster, a member of the association and a former commercial real estate agent, said that he has spent many hours working on the draft lease. He said that he was disappointed by Marchetti’s memo, and feared that the work he has put into the lease could be scuttled. 

“A lease is needed to stabilize the community, but also to give some credence to the city’s notions that residents need to be protected from landlords,” he said. 

Foster said that many of the houseboat residents are elderly and on fixed incomes. He said that they deserved to have more security in their rental arrangements with the city. 

The Marina Residents Association has retained an attorney, R.C. Wong, to shepherd their case through the Waterfront Commission and up to the City Council. 

Wong, who called the houseboat owners “the sweetest men and women in the world,” said that he hoped the city would enter into a lease agreement with them. 

“The city has done a lot to protect its residents,” he said. “Here’s another opportunity for them to continue that policy.” 

The Waterfront Commission will next hear the matter at its regular meeting in mid-February.