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Boat residents in a Wilmington marina face eviction

Colonial Yacht Anchorage's dock and slips are deemed unsafe. Some tenants will move to other marinas, but others — including some of the 11 who live on their boats — say they can't afford that.

April 16, 2012|By Ruben Vives, Los Angeles Times
  • Harold and Donna Hazelton live on their boat, which is moored at Colonial Yacht Anchorage in Wilmington. Even if they can fix the boat's engine and move it to a different marina, they fear having to pay higher rent.
Harold and Donna Hazelton live on their boat, which is moored at Colonial… (Mark Boster, Los Angeles…)

Harold Hazelton can't imagine living on land.

For more than 30 years, the 76-year-old and his wife, Donna, 75, have resided on their 43-foot Grand Mariner at Colonial Yacht Anchorage in Wilmington. That soon will end, however.

"I don't know what we're going to do," he said. "I don't like living on land. I've been on water all of my life."

The Hazeltons are among 95 tenants who face eviction May 1, the result of port officials having labeled the marina's dock and its 138 slips in Berth 204 as too dilapidated to be safe.

But moving isn't easy, particularly for the 11 tenants who live on their boats.

"We were blindsided by this," said John Loftus, 63, who has live-aboard status. "It's a real hardship to find a new place."

That is partly because the Los Angeles Harbor Department has a 5% live-aboard cap for each marina operator and, according to Hazelton, most are already at that limit.

Rent is another issue. Hazelton, for example, paid $636 a month for the boat slip and said moving to another marina would more than double that. He also faces another hurdle: The boat's engine doesn't work. To fix it, he said, would cost as much as $3,000.

That is why the Hazeltons, who live on a fixed income, are afraid their boat will be impounded when the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department finalizes the eviction order.

Faye Jeffries, 59, and her husband, James Schneider, 71, are just as worried.

"It's maddening not being sure what's going to happen," Jeffries said. "We were ambushed by this."

She and other boat owners contend that city and port officials, as well as the marina operators, did not inform them of the eviction plans — until an eviction sign, dated March 22, was posted on the front gates of the marina.

"There were rumors, but no one knew anything," Jeffries said.

City and harbor officials said last week that they're willing to waive the live-aboard limit and would provide free housing services for anyone unable to leave by the deadline.

"The primary concern is the live-aboard," said Janet Karkanen, Los Angeles deputy city attorney. "We really don't want to displace someone who's live-aboard. We're trying to strike this balance of giving people time to move their boats and keep the area safe."

She also acknowledged that boaters should have been notified of the legal proceedings but said the city assumed the marina operators had done that.

The marina in question is not picture-postcard idyllic — an oil field sits on the land side, monstrous shipping cranes and imposing cargo ships on the water side.

Colonial Yacht Anchorage Inc., owned by the Camello family, operated the marina for several years. But over time, the maintenance on the docks and slips declined, city and port officials say. Today, there are golf-ball-size holes in some of the floorboards of the docks; similar deterioration can be seen on some of the boats, with a few of the smaller vessels partially sinking.

Two years ago, the Camello family fell into financial hardship and stopped paying its rent, Karkanen said.

Maria Camello, president of Colonial Yacht Anchorage, did not respond to questions sent by email or phone calls.

Karkanen said the city tried to collect the unpaid amount — now nearly $400,000 — but were blocked when the company filed for bankruptcy at least three times in 2010 and 2011.

But last January, a state court judge ruled in favor of a lawsuit the city had filed against the Camello family, allowing the city to move forward with the debt collection and eviction of the marina operators from the Port of Los Angeles property. A bankruptcy judge later approved it.

The Camello family was ordered to leave by March 1 and pay the debt. The city is still attempting to collect that money, Karkanen said.

City and port officials said they initially sought other operators to manage the marina, but when they saw the decrepit and unsafe state of the docks and slips, they chose to close it. In the meantime, Shannon Quick, operator of Cerritos Yacht Anchorage, has been the acting manager of the marina until the boats are evicted. Quick said she's been trying to help with the relocation efforts and to notify boat owners who are out of state or out of the country of the situation.

It wasn't immediately clear whether the city would redevelop the marina, as some of the boat owners contend.

Los Angeles Port spokesman Phillip Sanfield said it's too early to determine what the city will do, although for years there have been discussions about building a youth sailing center on the property.

On a recent afternoon, Kevin Hook, 47, was removing the carpet from inside his boat stationed at the marina. Unlike others, Hook said he's destroying his boat. The cost, he said, is too much.

"This really doesn't leave us with many options," he said. "The biggest problem for me is how everything went down, there was not enough time. Now, they're booting you out and washing their hands of you."

Not far away, 58-year-old Chuck Galisky was polishing his boat, listening to classic rock. He said he was a day or so from moving to a different marina.

"The inconvenience to me is having to find a new place," Galisky said. "But that's on a small scale compared to what's happening to others."

ruben.vives@latimes.com

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