LONG BEACH — Eager to build a shipping terminal, the city Harbor Department has served about 90 boat owners at the ramshackle Our Marina with notice to leave by Sept. 15 or face eviction, confiscation of boats and mooring fees of $210 a day.
The city says it was left with a marina full of old boats with no place to go in July, because an independent marina operator failed to live up to a 1986 agreement to clear the docks so construction could begin this summer.
The notice to leave the storm-battered marina, located on an inner channel of the Port of Long Beach, was served Wednesday.
It is the first step in legal proceedings that both the city and the boat owners--many of whom live aboard their vessels--say could be lengthy.
"This is an on-going process. It's a problem that may take some time to resolve," said Deputy City Atty. Thomas A. Vyse. "We realize that it is a difficult proposition (for the boat owners)."
Vyse acknowledged what the boat owners have been saying since July, when they were first told they would have to leave--that few slips are available in the region for odd-sized or dilapidated boats like many that remain at Our Marina. In the last six weeks, about 40 of the original 130 boats found slips elsewhere, owners estimate.
"The folks with houseboats are in even more of a predicament. Many marinas allow no live-aboards," Vyse said.
City officials have not yet decided whether to actually evict about 30 remaining live-aboard boat owners and their families in mid-September or whether to begin to confiscate boats, he said. But he said the stiff mooring fees will be imposed at that point.
John Farish of Newport Beach, an attorney for a hastily formed boat owners association, said he will go to court this week to try to block the removal of boats and implementation of the high fees.
Farish also is scheduled to appeal Tuesday to the City Council. He said he will ask the city to stop eviction proceedings and to grant relocation benefits to boat owners.
Farish said he will tell the council that "some of these people don't have any options other than to sit there until they find another slip or find a buyer for their boat."
However, jurisdiction over Our Marina is held not by the City Council, but by the semi-autonomous city Harbor Commission, which has rejected the boat owners' proposals. The city attorney has told the council that it cannot order that commission to do anything.
Given a Year to Vacate
David Hauser, president of the Harbor Commission, said the commission spent $14.4 million for the marina and 72 surrounding acres last year and is determined to clear the site as soon as possible.
Hauser said the commission allowed marina operator William Melamed of Los Angeles more than a year to empty the facility so boat owners would have time to relocate.
Instead, the operator continued to rent slips through June. Melamed's attorney has said the port verbally agreed to allow the marina to stay open until construction was imminent.
Caught in that debate are the boat owners themselves. And some reacted frantically last week after being served with the eviction notices.
"Why doesn't the city of Long Beach have a little feeling," said Sonny Palfin, 51, a salesman for a used-boat yard that operated at the marina until it closed recently.
Palfin's $65,000 investment in his sleek, 50-foot "motor yacht" will be threatened by the $210-a-day mooring fee, but he said he can find no other slip.
Palfin and his wife, Jacqueline, 42, had planned to move to the Sacramento Delta last month. But their boat's engine burned up as they were trying to leave the marina, and they spent their savings repairing it, they said.
"I can't pay first and last month's rent anywhere now. We have 80 bucks to our name," Palfin said.
Neither has James Smith, a retired oil-field mechanic, been able to find a marina that will accept his 45-foot boat and live-aboard family.
"I call every marina in the area at least once a week and they all tell me the same thing. They don't have slips for a boat my size, especially for live-aboards."
Other tenants say they cannot afford to live anywhere else.
"That notice doesn't make a lot of difference, darlin'," said Willi Madden, 65, a part-time clerk with failing sight. "I don't have $210. This boat only cost $200.
"It simply means I have to put my cats to sleep and go live on the street. I don't have the money for anything else. There's no way out for me."