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Slip Renters at Marina Receive a Bailout

Eviction notices, sent in a lease dispute between the operators and Ventura County, are rescinded. The feud is headed for court.

July 23, 2003|Jenifer Ragland | Times Staff Writer

About 500 boat slip tenants at Channel Islands Marina who were set to be evicted Aug. 2 got a last-minute reprieve Tuesday, as marina operators said they would turn the slips over to the Ventura County Harbor Department but take their disagreement with the county to court.

The Farrell family, which has operated the marina for slip renters and a few dozen live-aboards for the last 40 years, filed a new legal complaint Tuesday against the county in an ongoing dispute over a lease agreement that expires Aug. 31.

County officials, who own the waterfront land, had been negotiating with the Farrells on a renewal of their lease for more than a year but last month decided to end the talks and find a new operator.

Members of the Farrell family maintain they should be compensated for improvements -- including wooden docks, restroom facilities and other buildings -- that they built on the property if the lease is not renewed.

But while the Farrells say the improvements are worth $3.5 million, the county has offered $50,000, said Michael Case, the family's attorney.

Not wanting the county to take control of the property without adequately paying them, the Farrells decided to pursue the other option they believed was provided for in the lease: return the property to the state it was in when they leased it in 1963. That meant sending eviction notices to the 500 boat slip tenants and trying to obtain permits to demolish the docks and buildings, Case said.

"The marina has only tried to do what the lease provides, which was to get paid for what we put in," Case said. "We have tried to not put [boaters] in the middle of it."

The county sued the marina operators in an effort to halt the eviction notices, but a judge ruled that the Farrells could move ahead with their plans.

In the countersuit filed Tuesday, Case is now arguing that in those court proceedings, county officials essentially made it known that permits to destroy the docks would never be issued.

"Given the county's strident position that we have no right to remove the improvements at all ... we do not realistically expect that approvals will ever be given," said a letter mailed by Farrellto tenants on Tuesday.

Case argued that such a refusal constituted an unlawful taking of private property and said the county could be ordered by a judge to pay the Farrells for the boat slips and buildings.

"They've used the power of the government to acquire the docks at no cost for the benefit of the public," Case said. "The Constitution says if you do that, you have to pay fair market value."

Lyn Krieger, director of the Ventura County Harbor Department, said her staff was still reviewing the marina operators' proposal to remove the docks.

"We never said we wouldn't issue permits," she said. "We haven't said no."

Krieger acknowledged that county-hired experts had said in court that it was unlikely the Farrell family would get permission from the California Coastal Commission to destroy the docks without replacing them.

The dispute over the docks is likely to be the crux of the impending court wrangling.

Meanwhile, the county will take control of the marina Sept. 1, Case said.

But that provides little comfort and security for many boat owners.

Dave Howard, 53, said he wasn't confident that county officials or a new marina operator would let him continue to live aboard Seychelles, the 35-foot Hunter sailboat he has called his home for more than two years.

Howard said he thought very highly of the Farrell and the way it has run the marina. He believes the family is getting a "raw deal" from the county and worries that plans to upgrade the marina will not include him or his neighbors on the dock.

"I am so brokenhearted, and everyone on my dock feels the same way," Howard said. "I don't take any pleasure in this victory of having my eviction removed."

Eric Hutchins, a Bakersfield resident who docks his 54-foot sailboat in the harbor for weekend trips, had a different view.

Irritated with the eviction notice and unwilling to hope the two sides would work things out, Hutchins decided last week to give up his slip and anchor his boat about 10 feet from the dock -- a move approved by the Ventura County harbor master.

He learned Tuesday about the new plan, a day after he committed to spending the $700 to moor his boat. He cannot afford to change plans again, he said.

"My reaction is one of sort of disgust for the bumbling nature of the marina operators," said Hutchins, 55.

"I'm not upset with the county. I'm upset with the people who issued the eviction notices and disrupted my life."

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