Boat Owners Turn to Water to Dilute Cost of Housing

Times Staff Writer

Prompted by a recent increase in slip vacancies, more people are choosing to live on boats in Marina del Rey to escape the high cost of housing, according to marina operators.

The number of owners living on their boats rose 10% in 1986 in Marina del Rey, which is made up of 19 marinas leased from the county, despite a sharp increase in slip fees caused by county deregulation last year.

The charge for living aboard a boat runs as high as 55% of the slip fee, which is based on the size of the slip or length of the boat. The county gets 7 1/2% of the surcharge.

According to the records of the 19 marinas in Marina del Rey, there are more than 300 people legally living aboard their boats. But, according to Jerry Rowley, president-elect of the Pioneer Skippers Boat Owners Assn., there may be twice that many illegal live-aboards. There are 5,265 slips in Marina del Rey, according to county reports.

"It's economics," Tahiti Marina dock master Chase Ramsgate said. "Where else can you find two bedrooms, two baths, a living room and a sun deck for $1,200 a month?" Marina apartments average $1,600 a month, he said.

Beverly Hills attorney Elie J. Gindi moved to his 51-foot power yacht last July. The boat, which cost about $250,000, features three staterooms, three baths and amenities that include a kayak and diving gear. "It has everything . . . an E-ticket ride," said Gindi, referring to a discontinued type of Disneyland ticket that admitted people to the most exciting rides.

A house in Beverly Hills would cost twice as much as his boat, said Gindi, a 37-year-old bachelor.

Margaret Conway, Villa del Mar assistant dock master, said the need to live on a boat is usually economic, especially for small-boat owners.

Corrine Kennon, 53, lives with her husband, Ken, on their 26-foot sailboat in Villa del Mar Marina. Their boat is paid for, she said, and it costs them $400 a month in fees to live on it. The couple lived ashore for a year, Kennon said, "but we couldn't afford to live the way we wanted to live."

Kennon, an administrative assistant at a Los Angeles candy manufacturer, and her husband, 63, a cosmetology instructor, earn a combined salary of $600 a week.

"We had hoped to buy a larger boat," she said, but her husband's impending retirement will probably preclude that move.

Despite the vessel's close quarters--the couple share a living space that measures about 8 by 11 feet--Corinne Kennon said "life is peaceful."

At Mariner's Bay Marina and Bar Harbor Marina in Marina del Rey, dock masters said there has been a noticeable increase in requests for live-aboard slips over the past few months. Mariner's Bay allows eight live-aboard owners in its 408 slips, but owners at Bar Harbor are not allowed to live aboard their boats.

"There has been a distinct shift in the mix of live-aboards and recreational boat owners over the last four or five months," said Gerald Winston, Marina boat owner and a retired statistician for Price Waterhouse.

Other municipal marinas, such as Cabrillo Marina in San Pedro and Long Beach Marina, limit the number of live-aboard owners to 10% or less of the total number of slips. A court order several years ago prohibited the county from placing such a limit in Marina del Rey, said Eric Bourdon, deputy director of the Department of Beaches and Harbors.

Two of the 19 marinas cut their vacancy rates by filling the slips with live-aboards. Aggie Cal Marina, which has 113 slips, added five live-aboards last year, bringing the total to 25, said dock master Casey Schuler. When Ramsgate, the dock master at Tahiti Marina, took over its management last August, no live-aboards were allowed. Out of 346 slips, 40 were vacant, he said. He filled 22 of the slips with live-aboards, and now has only one 16-foot slip empty.

Dock master Dave London, who operates three marinas for Real Property Management, said he is considering recommending more live-aboards. Real Property, the largest marina owner in Marina del Rey, manages about 1,000 boat slips.

Conway, who has worked at Villa del Mar for 12 years, said the problem with allowing too many live-aboards is that there is not enough electricity to go around.

"It's only a minor inconvenience," Corrine Kennon said. She knows if she uses two burners on her electric stove and forgets to turn off a heater, the circuit will blow, she said.

Of greater concern to some Marina del Rey boat owners, however, is the high number of illegal live-aboards. These "hide-aboards" pay recreational slip fees but do not pay the surcharge, an evasion that other boat owners say is unfair.

Although Rowley's estimate on the number of hide-aboards suggests that the county is losing money, Bourdon said the county doesn't monitor live-aboards. "We really don't care. It's up to the marina owners," Bourdon said.

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