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Marina's Boats Soon Could Be Set Adrift After Judge's Ruling

Dozens of slip tenants at Channel Islands Harbor expect eviction notices in a dispute between the operators and Ventura County.

June 12, 2003|Sandra Murillo and Tracy Wilson | Times Staff Writers

Dozens of boat slip tenants at Channel Islands Marina could receive eviction notices as early as Friday because of a judge's ruling in an ongoing rental dispute between the marina operator and the Ventura County Harbor Department.

For more than a year, the Farrell family, which operates the marina for about 450 boat slip renters and dozens of live-aboards, has been embroiled in tense on-again, off-again negotiations with the county over the terms of renewing its 40-year lease at Channel Islands Harbor.

Without a contract, the Farrells must be out of the county-owned harbor by Aug. 31, and the lease agreement requires that they return the marina to the way it was when the property was first leased, before construction of docks, boat slips and other buildings. This requires demolition of all such improvements.

As a result, the family maintains that it must issue eviction notices to all boat slip tenants before work begins. The marina's 50 live-aboards are expected to receive their 60-day eviction notices this week, with the remaining boat slip tenants to receive similar notices by late July.

The county went to court to obtain an injunction preventing the operator from issuing the eviction notices. But in a May 29 ruling that was announced Wednesday, a judge rejected the county's request, allowing the Farrell family members to move ahead with their plans.

"The Farrells feel badly that the people that have leased from them for many years are caught in this predicament, but if they don't do this they will be unable to exercise their rights under the lease," said attorney Michael Case, who represents the family.

But that doesn't provide any comfort for live-aboard tenants Joseph Myers and his wife, Darcy. The couple, who were married last month and live aboard Myers' 30-foot Catalina named Trouble, resent being caught in the fray.

They said they have been on a waiting list for a slip at other Southern California marinas since January. Available slips remain scarce in a tight rental market.

"I can see both sides and I can understand, but really what this is is a really nasty divorce," Myers said. "Unfortunately, we boaters are its children."

The rental dispute erupted earlier this year after the county sought to increase the charges in its lease agreement with the marina operator, while exploring other offers from potential lessees.

Should the county choose another operator, the Farrell family members demanded that they be compensated for the estimated $3.5 million they spent adding wooden docks, restroom facilities and other improvements. But the county offered only $50,000, Case said.

Meanwhile, county officials say they have never been given proof that the improvements are worth that much, and there is no reason to demolish what is there.

More important, they maintain that the county has better offers from potential lessees and they are tired of what they view as the Farrells' strong-arm tactics.

"The eviction notices appeared to be coercion to get a new lease with the county," County Counsel Frank Sieh said.

"There's no reasonable purpose to be achieved in removing the improvements. They would only be doing it to spite the county and to prohibit the county of the use of those improvements."

But Case said it has become clear that the county has a new, more upscale vision for the harbor that does not include his clients.

"The Farrells' view was they thought they'd provide slips Ventura County people could afford rather than turn the harbor into a resort-style marina," Case said.

"It is a different vision. We are disappointed," he said.

Despite the ongoing feud, county Supervisor John K. Flynn said he is doubtful that any marina tenants will lose their slips.

"I just don't think that the family there would do something like that," Flynn said. "It doesn't seem in character. It's inhumane to do so and it doesn't help anybody out."

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