'Way of Life Going Down the Tubes' : Shoals Ahead for Live-Aboard Boat Owners

Times Staff Writer

Seventeen years ago, Elizabeth Clay and her husband designed and built a 60-foot boat that became not just a weekend passion, but a home for them and their two sons at the California Yacht Anchorage.

"My kids had the biggest backyard in the world," Clay said. "To me, growing up on a boat is like growing up on a farm--your roots are in mother nature."

Clay's husband died last September, one grown son has moved away, and when construction on the new Cabrillo Marina is finished later this year, she may lose her home.

"It's a whole way of life going down the tubes," Clay said. "I'm a displaced live-aboard. It's like condemning an old apartment building."

The peaceful boating community enjoyed by Clay and her neighbors is being consumed by the Los Angeles Harbor Department's big, sparkling complex that will provide space for 1,150 boats, shops, parks and a hotel. Many of the 300 boaters at the old anchorage, unable to afford the higher slip rates or meet new boat requirements set by the Harbor Commission, say they will have to leave.

Anger and Fear

And even among some boaters who say they will stay, there is anger and fear about changes that are transforming the anchorage that many call home.

That concern has been translated into a new organization, the Los Angeles Boat Owners Assn., which claims 250 members. Organizers say that although there are good things about the modern facility, they believe they are being ignored by the Harbor Commission.

The boaters' main concern is the increased slip rate to be charged by the marina. Boat owners at California Yacht Anchorage now pay $4.85 a foot, but when the new slips are open, the rate will jump to $6.95. Also, boaters will have to pay separate fees for electricity and taxes, which have always been included in their monthly slip rental.

Live-aboard fees will also increase. Besides the basic rate, an additional 40% of their slip fee will be tacked to the live-aboard's rent. In addition, the Harbor Department is requiring all boaters in the new marina to take out insurance policies releasing the city from all liability for boats docked in the marina.

Clay estimates that her rent will increase from a base rate of $398 a month to approximately $700 at the new marina. Clay, 52, works full time as a supervisor for Todd Pacific Shipyards. She said her paycheck just covers the current costs of slip rental, family needs and upkeep of the boat.

Besides rent increases, boaters will have to meet other requirements imposed by the Harbor Commission: Coast Guard testing of boats for seaworthiness and storage and boat maintenance restrictions at the marina.

With the increased rental fee, additional charges and regulations, Clay said, she may have to sell her boat.

"It breaks my heart, absolutely breaks my heart," Clay said. "But that's what I'll have to do, put it on the marketplace."

At its organizational meeting last weekend, the Los Angeles Boat Owners Assn., boaters from several of the local anchorages, boat clubs and marinas, showed up to elect a governing board and discuss their concerns.

"We're being forced to form it because we need to fight for our rights," said Jerry Park, who led the drive to organize boaters. "The Harbor Department has taken it over without asking us about it once."

Working as Unit

"We formed to represent all the boaters in Los Angeles," said Bill Meier, president of the newly formed association, " . . . to try to get as a unit some direct response from the Harbor Department.

"Now if all of us go and talk to the Harbor Department, they have to listen to us. If not, we will have enough clout to get a lawyer."

But the chairman of the Harbor Commission said he was "appalled" at the accusation that the commission has not been responsive to the boaters. Commission Chairman Fred Heim said it was the other way around, with boaters failing to attend public meetings. "Even when we had meetings to plan the project, we had to scratch to get boaters to come," Heim said.

Members of the association insisted that they not only attended the meetings, but spoke to Heim on several occasions.

Not the Same

Beyond those arguments, though, boaters say they realize that their watery neighborhood will never be the same. Clay, for instance, says she misses the coffee shop--torn down to make way for construction--where fellow boaters used to meet and share local news.

And although the boaters at the California Yacht Anchorage got first choice when a lottery for slots was held, they will be spread throughout the sprawling complex. Clay and Meir said it just won't be the same.

"It's been a very family, close-knit thing," Meir said. "Now with the new marina, the rules and regulations . . . what do they call that? Progress?"

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