A Brief History
Floating Homes in Richardson Bay
Waldo Point Harbor Management Company
The Marin County Planning Department
BCDC and the State Lands Commission
The Gates Co-Op
Harbor Equity Group
The Origin of Floating Homes in Richardson Bay At the turn of the century Marin County was a thriving summer home community. In addition to building bungalows in the Sausalito hills, a few San Franciscans constructed floating summer homes on Richardson Bay in the latter part of the 19th century. In 1906, families left homeless by the earthquake took up year-round residence in these floating homes. Eventually, as hull maintenance became burdensome, many of these structures were brought to shore and became the Arks that still line the bay in down town Sausalito. Here, in Waldo Point Harbor, a number of these historic Arks are located along the shoreline. During the WWII shipbuilding era, Liberty Ship workers moved into this area in droves and a shortage of housing led many to take up residence in a variety of water craft, after the war, many of these workers stayed on the water and returning veterans also moved onto the water. They made their homes on anything that floated – mostly surplus war vessels such as landing craft, life rafts and balloon barges. It was the presence of both of these groups that established this area as a floating home community.
Waldo Point Harbor (WPH) Once upon a time the State of California had decided to allow development of San Francisco Bay, by filling in all the Bay, except for a shipping channel from the Golden Gate to Sacramento. Accordingly, the underwater lands of the Bay were subdivided, streets were platted out and the State began to sell the land under the Bay waters to private parties. BCDC (The Bay Conservation and Development Commission) was formed to halt this wholesale destruction of the Bay. Under the law, any development of the Bay required a BCDC permit.
The bay lands that now form WPH were originally owned by Arques Ship Yard. Arques first applied for BCDC permits to formalize the AD HOC floating homes community that remained after the war. Arques subsequently sold these underwater lands to the Waldo Point Harbor, a Limited Partnership, in 1971. In 1972 WPH was granted a permit from the county and the BCDC to operate floating home marina on those lands. permits were also granted to Kappas Marina and Yellow Ferry Harbor. BCDC granted the WPH permit under the condition that WPH offer a slip to everyone moored at WPH at that time. A number of residents refused berths in the new harbor, leading to the "Houseboat Wars" and eventually to the establishment of the Gates Cooperative. The permit requirements included, among other things, a shoreline park, bike paths and bay views. State Lands required that the configuration of underwater streets remain clear of residential properties.
In 1992 WPH's BCDC permit expired. Over the years state and local agencies objected to violations of the 1972 permit and of regulations governing the use of bay lands. At this time WPH does not have a legal permit to operate a harbor. In order to be granted a new permit, WPH was required to resolve their permit violations and settle ongoing litigation. This is addressed in the following sections.
Marin County The County of Marin is in charge of the development of WPH as well as the use of lands deeded over to the county by State Lands Commission. Their concern was the unpermitted use of the grid of underwater streets that run underneath many homes and docks. Development of these bay lands must conform to State Lands Commission’s mandates in order to avoid violation of regulations governing Bay land use.
In 1972 the Marin County Planning Department issued an operating permit to WPH. This permit came up for renewal in 1992. Both the BCDC and the State Lands raised concerns over violations of state and local regulations governing the use of underwater lands (See BCDC and State Lands below). Discussions of an acceptable proposal that would resolve violations continued for decades, culminating in an agreement to conclude a two for one swap of WPH land and the State Lands formerly designated as streets.
WPH at last resolved violations of its BCDC permit. The new permit, issued in 2004, requires the development of a shoreline park, bike path and views of the Bay. Lands originally designated for this purpose are located in and around the current site of the Gates Co-Op. Negotiations led by HEG resulted in an acceptable plan for the reconfiguration of the Gates Co-Op, thereby enabling WPH to develop the required public access for recreational purposes.
Bay Conservation and Development Committee (BCDC) and the State Lands Commission BCDC was formed in 1969 in response to an outpouring of public concern over plans to develop San Francisco Bay. Prior to that time, a plan was underway to fill in the entire bay with the exception of a shipping channel up to the Sacramento River. The filled-in land would have been developed for commercial and residential use.
An advocacy group called "Save the Bay" was formed to fight this development and legislation was enacted called the McAteer-Petris act. As part of this law a new government body was formed; the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) was put in charge of its implementation. From that time, they have regulated development and use of all bay waters and a 100-yard shoreline band surrounding the bay. The BCDC has jurisdiction on bay uses over and above county and local governments. No permit for bay use can be issued without BCDC approval.
WPH is in violation of State regulations prohibiting the development of private properties on the public streets that were mapped out when plans still existed to fill in Richardson Bay. The exchange of WPH land and State Lands formerly designated as county streets should resolve these violations.
The Gates Cooperative The Gates CoOp was established in 1979. At that time, the CoOp consisted of 115 houseboats distributed along the waterfront. The founding members successfully negotiated an end to the bitter civil unrest that had surrounded the Gates CoOp for over a decade.
In 1980, the CoOp was given a Community Development Block Grant to plan and construct a Small Boat Harbor at Waldo Point to provide "Affordable Housing" to these Marin county residents. With backing from the San Francisco Foundation they had applied for permits to proceed in 1986. The total number of Gates Coop residences that are permitted to remain, fully brought up to code and berthed legally, is 38 structures. They will be permanently berthed in accordance with the Community Development Plan (CDP) that HEG developed viat many dock meetings, door-to-door canvassing of all the docks, and consultation with CoOp leadership to determine the final size of all Gates structures and where they will be berthed. The CDP sites some Gates structures on each of the five existing WPH docks and the balance will be berthed on a new dock, called the Van Dam Dock. These CoOp homes will be designated as Affordable Housing for a minimum of 20 years.
BCDC began review of the WPH permit, which included both the proposed Gates Coop docks and existing WPH docks in the late 1980s. In a defensive move, WPH filed a lawsuit to prevent disruption of their operations. The BCDC counter sued WPH and named the Gates Coop in the countersuit.
Gates Coop was served an eviction notice in 1991 by WPH but continued to fight the legal battles and, with help from the SFF and the Buck fund, succeeded in establishing themselves as part of the community, for all practical purposes. This meant that any reconfiguration of WPH must, as a practical matter, include a number of Gates structures.
Harbor Equity Group Harbor Equity Group (HEG) was formed in 1989 by Waldo Point Harbor homeowners to represent the interests of WPH residents and was incorporated as a non-profit, tax-exempt organization in 1990. Over the past 22 years HEG closely monitored negotiations between WPH, the Coop and the state. However, since HEG was not a litigant in the dispute between the BCDC, Gates CoOp, Marin County and WPH we were not included in earlier settlement discussions.
Because of this lack of representation, HEG went to court in 1991 to seek to intervene in the ongoing WPH/BCDC/County/Gates CoOp litigation. Our concern was that negotiations were proceeding with total disregard for the homes and individuals living in WPH. The County, BCDC and WPH and convinced the judge that negotiations were very close to resolution ("in just a few months") and that HEG intervention would delay resolution of WPH problems. Ruling that the HEG intervention was "Not Timely" and agreeing with the litigants that the action would be an obstruction to negotiations, the judge denied HEG's petition.
Based upon strong assurances from BCDC/State Lands Counsel, Deputy attorney Matt Rodriquez that he would make certain that HEG would be fully informed and consulted on all ongoing and future planning and negotiations, HEG decided not to appeal. We had not succeeded in becoming parties to the ongoing suits, but we did succeed in securing a place at the table. From that time on, communications with HEG improved and homeowners were represented in all negotiations.