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Anti-Houseboat Law Struck Down

Courts: County ordinance requiring vessels in Marina del Rey to be seaworthy is discriminatory, judge rules.

February 27, 1998|JULIA SCHEERES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A Culver City municipal judge ruled Thursday that a county ordinance designed to rid Marina del Rey of unsightly houseboats is discriminatory.

"Thank you! Thank you!" shouted Katherine Campbell, who won the right to continue making a derelict cabin cruiser her home in the marina. The case represented a defeat for what some have termed "a poor-people-removal" plan.

Campbell, 45, is one of more than 100 people who live on converted powerboats in the marina in defiance of a 2-year-old ordinance requiring the craft to be seaworthy.

County officials have been open about the purpose of the law: They want only good-looking craft. They believe that by polishing the image of the marina, they can charge higher prices to commercial leaseholders.

But Judge Allan J. Goodman ruled Thursday that although Campbell's boat "may be the ugly ducking of the marina, it is allowed to float with the other boats."

The judge recommended that the county revise the ordinance to soften the seaworthiness requirement.

"By definition, no floating home is seaworthy," he said.

Campbell's case was the first to go to trial under the ordinance.

Acting under the law, the county had decided that 74 vessels "designed and built" as floating homes could remain in the harbor, but more than 100 powerboats that had been converted into residences had to prove they were able to navigate the high seas.

Many of the so-called "live-aboards," like Campbell, had removed their vessels' engines and steering devices, never intending to leave their slips.

Campbell, a computer supply saleswoman, moved to Marina del Rey in 1993 to fulfill a lifelong dream of life by the sea. Finding apartments too expensive, she bought a worn-out 1962 Chris-Craft for $1,500.

With immense determination and hundreds of hours of sanding, painting and chipping, Campbell refurbished the 36-foot cabin cruiser into a cramped but comfortable home that she's been sharing with her 13-year-old son, Michael.

She had lived in her home for more than three years when it was cited for being unseaworthy.

"It's definitely an elitist attitude they have," Campbell said. "They feel the live-aboards are trash."

Campbell, who thinks her boat is "cute," decided to battle the people who wanted to get rid of the converted boats.

Two of those people are members of the Small Craft Harbor Commission--Herbert Strickstein and John MacLaurin.

"When you see these unseaworthy vessels . . . that downgrades the quality of the marina," Strickstein said in an interview.

"Many of them are obvious eyesores," said MacLaurin, who added that boats used as a "second-class shelter" would drive down commercial real estate values.

Specifically, he said, the presence of the shabby houseboats would have a negative impact on the marina's multimillion-dollar redevelopment plan, which includes competitive bidding for lucrative leases on prime waterfront properties.

So far, the Sheriff's Department has issued more than 100 citations under the ordinance, which gives those aboard the boats 120 days to shape up or ship out.

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