A bill that will assist municipalities and counties with the ongoing problem of warehousing and/or destroying abandoned vessels has passed the State Assembly, its last legislative hurdle.

Assembly Bill (AB) 1950, which was authored by Assemblyman Ted Lieu of Torrance, was approved unanimously on Tuesday, August 19th.

“This bill will help those boat owners who are thinking of abandoning their boats to have another option, which is to turn them in to an agency that will accept them,” Lieu told the Argonaut.

The bill moved through the Legislature without much difficulty, passing the Senate unanimously on August 15th before its last stop in the Assembly, where it again passed without opposition.

AB 1950 garnered the support of several boating associations around the state, and the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors believes that this bill will be of great assistance in ridding Marina del Rey’s waterways of vessels that have been abandoned.

“We are and have been very supportive of AB 1950,” said Linda McIntyre, vice president and chair of the Legislative Committee of the California Association of Harbor Masters and Port Captains.

Kerry Silverstrom, chief deputy director of the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors, which administers Marina del Rey, said that due to the fact that boaters can voluntarily turn their boats in to county authorities instead of abandoning them before they begin to deteriorate is an important component of the legislation.

“Knowing that they have that opportunity, the public entity would end up with the vessels in much better condition and perhaps not be put in the position to destroy the vessel,” Silverstrom said.

“Boats tend to depreciate rapidly and at times, because some of them require so much repair work, there is no one that will take them if the owner wants to sell it,” added Charlie Nobles, executive director for the Marina del Rey-based American Sailing Association. “This is an issue in the Marina, and I think that [AB 1950] would be a good thing.”

The bill will also allow local agencies to apply for existing grants to create programs to dispose of these surrendered vessels and increase fines for irresponsible boat owners who abandon their boats, polluting waterways and creating underwater hazards.

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. The fund gives extra consideration 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.

Not everyone supports Lieu’s bill.

“I would really like to know what was the input in this bill by the county and the Sheriff’s Department, and I am really offended by the fact that our assemblyman [would] introduce a bill in the Assembly without even bothering to contact the community to find out what concerns they had about this bill,” asserted Hans Etter, a Marina del Rey boat owner in an interview in June.

Andy Bessette, 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 or her vessel under any condition,” Bessette lamented. “That Los Angeles County has been responsible, in part, for displacing some of these individuals is disgraceful.”

Dozens of boat owners in Marina del Rey experienced a large and, according to some, indiscriminate hike in their slip rental fees over the last two years, and this has led to heated debates between county officials and outraged tenants. Many believe that this action has forced some boaters to give up their vessels, while county representatives say that, while some of the raises were exorbitant, they still were legal under the county’s price range policy.

McIntyre sees AB 1950 as a “win-win” for all parties involved.

“We appreciate Assemblyman Lieu for staying the course with this legislation,” she said.

Scott Pryor, the marine operations specialist for the City of Monterey, said that the Abandoned Watercraft Abatement Fund has been instrumental in his city’s efforts to keep its waterways clean and accessible.

“It is an essential part of our needs,” he said. “We have utilized the fund for many years.”

Officials at the County Sheriff’s Department Marina del Rey Station, which is responsible for towing and warehousing the discarded vessels locally, say that the cost of storing these vessels can be prohibitive.

Storage charges in Marina del Rey start at 90 cents a foot per day, and after the third day it increases by 45 cents, said Sheriff’s Deputy John Rochford. If a vessel is no longer seaworthy or in poor condition, often the boat owner will not claim it, leaving the county with only two recourses — destroying the boat or auctioning it.

“Lien sales can take up to six weeks, because the owner has a right to claim their vessel within that time period,” Rochford explained.

Silverstrom said that the cost of demolishing boats that have been abandoned can also be costly to municipalities, especially during the ongoing state budget crisis and constricting county budgets.

“Depending on the circumstances, it can cost between $1,000 and $5,000 to demolish these boats if they are in poor condition, and that does not included the Coast Guard’s cost for removal of hazardous fuel tanks,” Silverstrom noted.

Russell Lesser, chair of the County Small Craft Harbor Commission, was not familiar with AB 1950, but said that it appears to have some beneficial components to it.

“If it encourages more responsible behavior, like turning a boat in instead of abandoning it, that sounds like a positive thing,” said Lesser, who is a boat owner.

“This bill is a win-win. It protects the environment and our waterways, while saving local agencies thousands of dollars,” said Lieu. “With many cities and counties facing budget constraints, the state should do everything in its power to ease the burdens on local government.”