A bill proposed by Democratic Assemblyman Ted Lieu to facilitate the demolition and storage of boats that have been abandoned in public waters has rankled several Marina del Rey boat owners. Lieu’s 53rd Assembly District includes Marina del Rey.

Assembly Bill (AB) 1950 would assist local agencies with the removal of derelict boats and vessels that have been abandoned.

There are currently programs in place to help local agencies remove abandoned vessels, but there is currently no mechanism to prevent the abandonment of these types of boats.

“These abandoned boats not only create hazards in our boating ways, but leak toxins such as fuel and oil into our water,” Lieu stated. “This legislation would help clean up our waterways while saving the state and local agencies money by being proactive in our actions.”

This proposed legislation has angered some Marina del Rey boat owners, who view this as another attempt by government agencies to deprive them of enjoying the recreational boating pleasures that the Marina was created for.

“For Ted Lieu to initiate a bill that would be ‘piling on’ to the already deplorable conditions in our marina is unfortunate,” said Jon Nahaas.

Nahaas, a Marina resident who is the leader of a group of boating activists who accuse officials of Los Angeles County of attempting to drive small boat owners out of the Marina by raising slip fees, believes this bill could exacerbate an already tenuous situation.

“With the massive reduction of affordable boat slips and huge increases in slip fees, low and middle-income boaters will be burdened with additional punitive costs as they are displaced out of the ‘public’ marinas,” Nahaas said. “In a time in which the federal, state and local governments should be assuring the needs of the citizens in non-private areas, this takes another step to penalize working-class constituents.”

Andy Bessette, the president of the Marina Boaters Association, also feels that county officials bear a large responsibility for causing some boat owners to surrender their vessels when they can no longer afford the slip rates and maintenance for their boats.

“It breaks my heart to realize the level of suffering someone must go through, to have no other option than to abandon his/her vessel under any condition,” Bessette lamented. “That Los Angeles County has been responsible, in part, for displacing some of these individuals is disgraceful.”

County officials see AB 1950 as a way to alleviate the burden on taxpayers across the county.

“These derelict boats are being left on the [waterways] at taxpayers’ expense,” Kerry Silverstrom, chief deputy director of the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors told The Argonaut. “People who abandon their boats are taking advantage of the taxpayers, who ultimately have to pay for the removal or the storage of these vessels.”

Others view the proposed legislation with more skeptical eyes.

“As usual, the county has an ulterior motive behind this bill and I believe that Assemblyman Ted Lieu was not aware about that and has only been in contact with the county and not the people in our marina,” asserted Hans Etter, another Marina del Rey boat owner. “This bill that is proposing changes allows the county to take your boat with no compensation after they have taken your slips away.

“They will use the abandoned vessel fund that the state has and that is funded by our boat fuel taxes,” Etter added. “They claim that this bill would give boaters a chance to ‘freely’ turn the title over to the county for disposal and to avoid fines and disposal fees.”

Silverstrom confirmed in a prior interview that there is a way to escape paying a fine to the county.

“If you sign over the title to us, we won’t issue citations for the cost [of storage],” Silverstrom said.

The fund that Etter referred to, the Abandoned Watercraft Abatement Fund, is a state endowment that provides funding that covers average costs to remove, store and/or dispose of surrendered vessels and other navigational hazards.

Extra consideration is given to applicant agencies that are proactive in keeping abandoned vessels out of state waters and maintain a navigational hazard abatement plan.

The removal of commercial vessels is not reimbursable.

“The question that should be asked is if the county can remove our slips and then claiming that we are not in ‘good standing’ or have vessels that are seaworthy but that we are paying property tax, fuel tax and registration fees,” Etter said. “What protection has any other property owner against seizures like this?”

The cost to the county of storing these boats can become expensive. Storage charges in Marina del Rey start at 90 cents a foot per day, and after the third day it increases by 45 cents. If a vessel is no longer seaworthy or is in poor condition, often the boat owner will not claim it, leaving the county with only two recourses — destroying the boat or auctioning it.

Bessette feels that there is sufficient revenue generated in Marina del Rey to pay for the costs of this initiative.

“L.A. County’s profits from Marina del Rey fund projects and pork from all over the county — conceivably all over the state,” Bessette pointed out. “For them to surcharge federal taxpayers for cleaning up after themselves, is the epitome of arrogance.”

Lieu sought to clarify the purpose of his legislation to those who may not fully understand it.

“AB 1950 simply allows local agencies, using existing funds, to accept vessels that are voluntarily surrendered by boat owners. It does not give local agencies any additional authority to police boat owners,” the assemblyman said.

Like Nahaas and Etter, Bessette believes that substantial increases in boat slips combined with widespread redevelopment throughout Marina del Rey are the principal factors that lead to boat owners finding themselves unable to repair their property, which in turn causes some to abandon their boats.

“The poorest boaters [with the soon-to-be-derelict boats] are driven from their slips so the developers can build more apartments where there was once boater parking, and so the boat brokers and the wealthy have a place for their new yachts,” he said. “Now [state legislators] also want federal taxpayers to give them money for the fallout they have caused themselves. That’s bureaucracy at it’s finest.”

AB 1950 is currently still in the Assembly.

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