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Oakland Council Unanimously Approves Nuisance Vessel Ordinance

Vote requires second approval before Estuary ban takes effect.

People may soon be banned from living aboard boats anchored in the Oakland Estuary following Oakland City Council action Tuesday night.

The council voted unanimously to approve the Nuisance Vessel Ordinance. The ordinance requires a second approval by the council, which may take it up on March 21.

Alameda Post - Oakland and Alameda Estuary before cleanup
The Estuary before a 2013 cleanup. Photo Brock de Lappe.

City officials are eager to pass the ordinance to avoid enforcement and penalties, which the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission [BCDC] could impose. Penalties could be as much as $6,000 a day.

The commission considers the boats unpermitted fill, according to police in a report on the matter to interim City Administrator G. Harold Duffey. The commission is responsible for regulating fill in San Francisco Bay. The Oakland Estuary is considered part of the Bay.

City Councilmember Janani Ramachandran told her colleagues that the ordinance as it is written leaves a lot of questions unanswered. “However, I recognize the urgency of the issue and the potential fines that may be imposed by BCDC if we don’t address them, which the city clearly can’t afford right now,” Ramachandran said at the meeting.

Oakland is facing a budget shortfall in the hundreds of millions of dollars. In addition to the environmental threats the boats pose, they pose a safety hazard to rowers who use the estuary, according to Denise Martini, president of the East Bay Rowing Club.

Alameda Post - two rowers rowing on the water
OARS rowers practice on the Estuary. Photo courtesy Oakland Athletic Rowing Society.

“It’s a terrible risk,” Martini said. She said the ordinance is “vital to our safety.” Martini said a lot of rowing on the estuary is done in the dark. Rowers are out in the early morning hours or in the late afternoon or early evening.

Councilmember Noel Gallo added an aspect to Martini’s argument. He said Oakland needs this ordinance so children on the Oakland side of the estuary can row. Children in Alameda can row in the estuary and Gallo wants Oakland children to have the same opportunity. Many of the children are middle school and high school students in Oakland public schools, he said.

“I support this ordinance,” Gallo said before the vote.

But Delphine Brody, an advocate for homeless people, urged council members to vote no on the ordinance. She argued it “is yet another form of the criminalization and state violence against unhoused people that has been the focal point of Oakland’s policy around homelessness for a very long time.” What we need are housing solutions, she added. Funding should go toward that first. She said the people living on the boats anchored in the estuary cannot afford to live elsewhere and have nowhere else to go.

Tuesday night’s approval included several amendments by Ramachandran that will allow other city departments and external agencies to perform certain administrative tasks related to the ordinance.

Ramachandran’s amendments do not restrict Oakland police from enforcing the ordinance. A violation of ordinance would be a misdemeanor.

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