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Assemblyman Lieu to explain benefits of abandoned vessels legislation at boating town hall in the Marina

Gary Walker
The Argonaut
08/05/2009

State Assemblyman Ted Lieu will visit Marina del Rey at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, August 13th to discuss with the boating public the purpose behind Assembly Bill (AB) 166, which would provide a mechanism for disposing of abandoned vessels on public waterways.

Billed as a “boating town hall” at the California Yacht Club, the meeting will allow the assemblyman to answer questions regarding AB 166, which would utilize revenues collected through fines paid to the California Department of Boating and Waterways for grants to local agencies to remove and dispose of derelict, dismantled and abandoned boats from the water.

The bill would increase the minimum fine from $500 to $1,000 for anyone who abandons a boat on public or private property, except in an emergency situation.

AB 166 would allow the owner of a vessel that is no longer seaworthy or cannot be repaired to voluntarily surrender it to a local agency without incurring an infraction.

The proposed legislation, which Lieu is sponsoring, passed the Legislature last year but was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Lieu views the town hall as an opportunity to meet with a constituency that he does not see in person very often and to hear their concerns related to boating activities.

“It’s a good chance to explain how the bill works to residents of Marina del Rey, those who work and dock their boats at the marinas and also to see what’s on their minds regarding boating issues,” Lieu told The Argonaut.

Abandoned boats have increasingly become a problem for agencies that patrol California’s waterways. Many are in poor condition, say county and state authorities, and can lead to environmental as well as navigational hazards.

AB 166 has generated a great deal of support from boating organizations from around the state, including the California Association of Harbor Masters & Port Captains.

“We have watched vessels sink while awaiting permission to demolish them. This bill is a win-win on every level — for the environment, the vessel owner and the agency left with the job of cleaning up after abandoned vessels,” said Linda McIntyre, the association’s president.

Lieu emphasized that his bill would give a boat owner who chooses to surrender their vessel to a public agency without polluting and obstructing the waterways for other recreational boats and public safety vessels a chance to do so without being fined.

“It’s a voluntary program,” he reiterated. “No one will be asked to turn in their boat if it is not damaged or abandoned.”

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Marina del Rey Station tows derelict boats to its holding dock and is at times faced with storing a large quantity of them, as the law requires the department to notify the owner before a boat is destroyed or sold after a certain period of time.

Sgt. Mike Carriles, who works in harbor operations at the Marina Sheriff’s station, says that his department supports the proposed legislation.

“One of the most important parts of AB 166 is the boat surrender program,” the sergeant said. “We have had several people who have looked at other alternatives on how to get rid of unseaworthy boats, and this gives them another option.”

Westchester resident “Sparky” Miller docks his 38 Baitliner yacht in E Basin and views derelict boats as a potential danger to other vessels in the water.

“They can be a real navigation hazard,” Miller said. “People often (abandon) these boats outside the marina and then they end up on the beach.”

Having the ability to surrender a watercraft that is in poor condition or can no longer be properly or lawfully maintained is the component of the proposed bill that Lieu would like Marina boat owners to consider.

“AB 166 will help save the environment and will also save local agencies money,” the assemblyman said.

In addition to having the potential to create hazards on the water and the environmental aspect, Miller says that derelict boats are visual blights as well.

“They’re unsightly and they’re dangerous,” said the Westchester boat owner.

The assemblyman, who is campaigning for state attorney general next year, said that he was still unsure why Schwarzenegger decided to veto AB 166 last year.

“It has garned a lot of support,” Lieu said. “There was really no good reason to veto it.”

In addition to AB 166, Lieu will also discuss other boating related topics with residents and boat owners, some who say that they are facing the prospect of having to remove their boats from their rented docks or lose them due to rising boat rental slips at Marina del Rey anchorages.

A group of recreational small boat owners who dock their vessels in Marina del Rey have forcefully complained over the last several years that rising slip fees have caused many of them to seek other marinas where they can dock their boats. They allege that county officials have permitted their lessees to charge rates that border on the usurious and in some cases, renters have seen their slip rates increase between 30 and 50 percent.

Officials from the county Department of Beaches and Harbors counter that while they feel that some of the rate increases are very high, they fall within the county’s market rate plan, on which the slip fees are based.

Miller says that he has heard about the difficulties that other boaters are having due to rising slip rates and the turbulent economic situation. He received his last dock rental hike two years ago and says that for the time being, he is resigned to the rent that he must pay for his boat slip.

“We’re sort of between a rock and a hard place,” Miller, who pays $750 a month for his slip, said. “You don’t want to go all the way to Wilmington to look for a cheaper rate.”

Lou Gladser is another boat owner who left his former anchorage at Almar in April for the Bay Club, which is offering new tenants one-year leases in which the rental fees will not be raised.

“(Almar) raised their rates 27.7 percent within 11 months,” Gladser said. “We’re not wealthy people and we love boating, but it’s kind of becoming a hardship these days.”

Lieu said that while slip fee pricing is a county matter, he will be available to listen to anyone’s complaints.

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