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[whitespace] Heather Gardner Water World: Waterfront property developers envision 200-foot towers and condominiums with units priced between $400,000 and $800,000. Soon-to-be-evicted floating tenants like Heather Gardner, some of whom have lived here for decades, pay an average of $450 a month for a slip and utilities.

Photograph by George Sakkestad

Slip Kids

Peninsula developer evicts floating community in Redwood City harbor to make way for upscale housing

By Chris Berdik

DINNER AT THE Peninsula Yacht Club in Redwood City is roast beef, peas, baked potatoes and salad. Like every Friday, one of the members has cooked. It's all you can eat for 5 bucks, and everybody helps themselves.

Folks filter in from the slight evening chill, greeting one another with a wave or a shout. They are of all sorts--a commercial diver, a teacher, a fisherman, an interior designer, a doctor, a boat builder. But nobody has come from very far tonight. Almost everyone here lives on a boat or a "floating home" in one of three nearby marinas--Peninsula, Docktown, or Pete's Harbor.

The marinas line Redwood Creek and the narrow sloughs that wind their way toward the deeper water of the bay. Pleasure boats mix with those doubling as homes along rented sections of the docks known as slips. Electricity and water lines connect a wide assortment of boats. Massive, gleaming power cruisers sit beside small, battered sailboats and two-masted clippers. There are also more curious vessels: one that resembles a floating bathtub, a two-story houseboat with a picket fence, and something that looks like a seagoing tank. Many decks are festooned with strings of lights, potted plants and flowers, lawn furniture and barbecue grills.

Back in the clubhouse, new arrivals sit with friends at small tables. Others sidle up to the bar, where tonight, club member Allen Helms pours the drinks. The snug building quickly fills with laughter and loud chatter. But it doesn't take long for the sadness and anger to surface.

"Don't talk to me about that guy," scoffs Dan Julien, a car salesman who lives on a houseboat. Julien's talking about Robert Batinovich, head of Glenborough Realty of San Mateo. In a joint venture with the Colorado-based Pauls Corporation, Glenborough recently purchased about 53 acres of shoreline property on which it plans to build a complex of high-rise condominiums. In January, the company served eviction notices to approximately 400 live-aboards in Peninsula Marina, some of whom have lived there for more than 20 years. The live-aboard tenants were given until the end of May to move out, with or without their boats. The hundred other live-aboards at Pete's Harbor figure their eviction notices will arrive within a year. Those in Docktown, although their marina is not part of the current development, suspect their time will also come.

"If I won the lottery tomorrow," Julien continues, "you know what I'd do? I'd go buy the place where [Batinovich's] mother lives and evict her. See how that makes him feel."

The clubhouse where the live-aboards are gathering was once part of a tannery, most of which burned down in the 1960s. Atop its small, boxy first floor is the cylindrical second story of the old water tank, now painted with layers of blue waves and emblazoned with the club's red, white and black flag.

There have been lots of other changes to this area over the years. Redwood Creek, for instance, used to carry boats all the way into downtown Redwood City. Now most of it has been paved over. When it finally emerges, from beneath a six-lane road on the outskirts of town, it trickles between the parking lots of a Sizzler and a Carl's Jr. and then dips under Highway 101 before reaching the bay.

The area around the club, now occupied by warehouses, RV dealerships and truck depots, used to be a busy industrial port, home to lumber companies, shipbuilders and fisheries. Centuries ago, this land was the private estate of a wealthy Spanish officer, and long before that it was the fishing grounds of the Ohlone Indian tribe.

In some sense, then, the planned condominiums will be just another step in the evolution of this waterfront, a place that has been shaped for centuries by the forces of money, power and change.

Bob Nelson
Photograph by George Sakkestad

Liquid Asset: Boat dweller Bob Nelson has been a resident of Peninsula Marina for the last 15 years.

Land Demand

CALIFORNIA IS GROWING at a rate of 570,000 people a year, according to the demographic research unit at the state Department of Finance. In 1999, census figures indicate that three Bay Area counties, Alameda, Santa Clara and San Francisco, were among the top 15 California counties in terms of population growth. And space is at a premium. A critical shortage of housing has pushed this area's average home price over $350,000 and its average rent for a one-bedroom apartment to around $2,000 a month.

"The development was conceptualized as a financially viable way to help address the continuing housing shortage," says Duane Sandul, spokesperson for the Glenborough-Pauls joint venture. Under the current plan, the condominium towers will include 1,300 residential units as well as several shops, and will be called Marine Shores Village.

Perhaps the 200-foot. towers the developers envision, with units priced between $400,000 and $800,000, simply fit these times better than floating tenants who pay an average of $450 a month for a slip and utilities.

Certainly many Redwood City officials look at it this way. Most believe the city will eventually issue the needed permits, even though the area will have to be rezoned to accommodate the residential towers, and there are no plans to include below-market units.

City Councilmember Jeff Ira supports the condominium housing, as do most of his colleagues. "It's kind of high-end," he says of the development, "but I think that it is targeted for a market that has been overlooked in our communities: the young professionals."

Many of the live-aboards understand this shoulder-shrugging "progress" view of their situation. Yet, somehow, it doesn't quite convince anybody.

"What's really sad," said a live-aboard named Martin who declined to give his last name, "is all the people who live on smaller boats, those of lesser means. There are a lot of retired people here. Some living on social security. They're just trying to stay alive. They've worked all their lives, paid their taxes, and where are they going to go?"

Although the developers have not submitted a final plan for review by Redwood City authorities, they hope to break ground this fall.

The have offered five months rent to anyone who leaves early (at first this meant the end of March, then April, and now May). Those who refuse to leave will have their electricity, water and sewage services cut. Those tenants who remain report no cuts in services as of this writing. Despite the deadlines, however, several Redwood City officials doubt that the developers will be able to keep to their schedule to begin construction in the fall.

"The developer is far too optimistic," says City Councilman Jim Hartnett. "This is a complex project that will need close scrutiny and will take time."

An official of the Redwood City planning department who asked to remain anonymous said that the developers finally submitted a plan for an environmental impact review in mid-March. The official said that this and other reviews of the planned development might delay final approval by up to a year.

Jim Pearson
Photograph by George Sakkestad

Strong to the Finish: Marina resident Jim Pearson is unhappy with the harbor evictions and the end of the affordable lifestyle there.

Evict Now, Ask Questions Later

THE LIVE-ABOARDS RESENT being forced to leave their homes before a final plan has been approved. They're also angry at the fact that the developers unveiled their plans to the media a week before notifying them of their fate.

Nevertheless, Sandul, the Glenborough-Pauls spokesman, believes his company is being more than fair. "We are offering one of the most generous packages that we are aware of," he says.

Although some live-aboards have pledged to stay through the deadline, a good number of them have accepted the developer's offer. Ian Ledesma, 30, a waiter who's lived in Peninsula Marina for about three years, is one of them. Ledesma is originally from the Philippines. He moved to the United States in 1990 and purchased his 26-foot powerboat, Uniflight, for $5,000 when he and two others were evicted from their one-bedroom apartment. His slip fee is currently $350 a month.

"My friend said, 'Look, if you're living on a boat, you can't never get kicked out,'" Ledesma recounts with a grin. "I'm not a rich person," he continues. "It's going to be hard to move. I need to sell my boat and get a trailer. Guess I'll go from boat trash to trailer trash."

A lot of the live-aboards are luckier than Ledesma. They appreciate the affordability of their life on water but have the means to make it on land, even in the Bay Area.

Twelve years ago, Francisco Martinez bought a house in Concord, a little over two hours' drive north. Martinez services copy machines, and four years ago a promotion brought him to this area. Rather than endure the commute, he bought a 23-foot boat, gutted it, and rebuilt it over an eight-month period before moving aboard with his wife. He gave the house to his son. Now, however, he's sold the boat and is moving back.

Martinez's return to land will only be temporary, he insists. In addition to facing a commute of more than two hours, he says that "living on a boat is my way of life. I'm committed to it. I'm going to sell my house and buy another boat--force my way into some marina whether some hotshot condo developer likes it or not."

The strong commitment to living on water is shared by many around here.

"There's something great about living on a boat," says Dennis Pinony, a shipbuilder who lives on a 36-foot sailboat. "If you don't like the neighborhood, haul anchor and haul ass."

The irony is that most of the live-aboards love their neighborhood. While helping themselves to ice cream set out for dessert, they mention quietly how safe they feel among their neighbors, how well everybody knows everybody else, the helping hands extended in tough times.

"What's it going to be like, living in those condo towers?" one live-aboard asks. "People won't know if their neighbor is dead for five years. Or until the smell hits them."

Peninsula tenants predict the closing of their marina will also create extra headaches for harbormasters and police up and down the bay. State regulations limit live-aboard slips to 10 percent of a marina's docks, and the few bay marinas that still accept live-aboards have waiting lists extending for years. As a result, many predict that those who are unable to secure a live-aboard spot may rent a cheaper recreational slip and join the ranks of those who sneak aboard their boats to live. Nancy Berry, the commodore of the Peninsula Yacht Club, also expects a huge increase in the number of live-aboards without slips who simply drop anchor someplace in the bay.

"Lots of people here can't afford to get an apartment. People are going to drop anchor everywhere. Either that or abandon their boats," Berry says. It's apparent from her voice that affordable housing and the danger of anchor outs clogging up the bay aren't the only things at stake. "We're a community here, a lot of really neat people" she says, "but no developer can see that."

Another club member motions toward the window, from which you can see a recently built office park filled with "dotcom" businesses. Highway 101, still blinking red and white with a full load of traffic at 9pm, cuts along the background. "Silicon Valley," he says. "It can't keep going like this. One day soon, somebody is going to have to walk out of here, turn off the lights and shut the door on this place."

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From the April 19-25, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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