The 13 houseboat residents at the city-owned marina are hoping a compromise struck with the Waterfront Commission will end years of monthly fees that they say were as unpredictable as the bay winds.
For the past several years houseboat owners paid rents based on the government’s tabulated cost of living increases. Because the numbers fluctuated so much the residents, who are mostly retired and living on fixed incomes, never knew how much money they owed the city each month.
If the City Council approves a compromise residents made with the Waterfront Commission last week, houseboat residents will pay the same monthly dock fees charged to all marina boats plus a flat $125 surcharge. Current fees are $271.20 for a 48-foot boat slip and $360.80 for a 54-foot slip.
The compromise will cost houseboat residents roughly $600 more annually, but Marty Steiger of the Berkeley Marina Residents’ Association, a neighborhood group of residents from all of the live-in boats, says the new simplicity is worth the rate hike.
“Before, everything was so convoluted and complicated. I couldn’t understand it,” he said.
Houseboat residents praised two additional facets of the compromise with the city. The Waterfront Commission agreed to eliminate a $50 monthly charge to every resident on a boat besides the owner.
Also, because houseboat owners are assessed the same fees as other boat owners, they can expect to have greater negotiating power by teaming with other owners when it comes to challenging rate hikes, said Brad Smith of the Waterfront Commission.
Steiger said the confusing terms of the previous agreement strained relations between houseboat residents and other marina boat owners because many of the boat owners assumed the houseboat owners were paying lower fees.
Houseboat owners said the compromise failed, however, to achieve their top priority – a yearly lease from the city. The city and the houseboat residents will maintain month-to-month agreements.
“Not having a lease makes us feel insecure,” said Steiger. “Because we’re older we want to know what we can expect.”
Smith said houseboat residents have no reason for concern. “City staff and the City Council all want them there,” he said.
Steiger said the city could benefit from leases. Because Berkeley has a housing transfer tax, he said the city could collect money on the sale of a houseboat. He noted that houseboats docked off Marin County waters all have leases, and some boats sell for as much as $800,000.
Cliff Marchetti, waterfront commissioner, said the city rejected the lease option because it might obligate the city to offer leases to all marina boats.
“We can’t treat a few boat owners differently than other boat owners,” he said.
The Waterfront Commission retains the power to review marina dock rates.