Boat owners caught in wake of boat yard eviction

Boat owners caught in wake of boat yard eviction

Michele Ellson
Nelson's Marine was evicted from Alameda Point in May.

Mike Connelly worked to restore his 37-foot sailboat at Nelson’s Marine for three years. He found out the Alameda Point boat yard was being evicted less than two weeks before the Alameda County Sheriff came to padlock its gates.

Connelly’s boat isn’t yet sea worthy – he figures his restoration project has about six months to go. But even if she were, his boat is blocked by other boats that are still on the premises, some of whose owners may not even know Nelson’s was shut down.

“It’s kind of a crazy mess,” Connelly said.

Connelly’s boat is among an estimated 150 that remain at the boat yard, and he is one of many boat owners who have expressed frustration with city staffers for failing to communicate with boat owners caught in the wake of the eviction or to have a plan in place for them to retrieve their vessels.

“I know the city’s now trying to work through this mess. But we that are caught up in this really haven’t been informed as to what’s going to happen, when, and the requirements,” said Connelly, who was one of several boat owners who recently appealed to the City Council for help.

City staffers faulted boat yard owner Carl Nelson for failing to tell his customers that he was being evicted and that their boats would have to go. And they said that after working out a tangle of legal and safety issues, they’re close to having a process in place to help boat owners move on.

“The city really empathizes with the position those boat owners are in. We just want to make sure we do it right,” said Nanette Mocanu, economic development division manager for the city. “I expect we’ll have a process in place very soon for people to move their boats that addresses all those concerns.”

Nelson could not be reached for comment.

From Nelson's Marine

The city evicted Nelson’s in late April after efforts to settle a lawsuit alleging the boat yard’s owner had failed to address “numerous” building code violations and to pay nearly $37,000 in storm water utility fees collapsed.

Mocanu said the city couldn’t intervene to assist boat owners until May 10, when Alameda took possession of the boat yard property. With it came dozens of unclaimed boats – and a host of unanticipated legal and safety issues.

Nelson’s bookkeeper, Vicky Hines, said the city’s outside attorney told her he had asked Nelson for a list of tenants in December but that he never relayed the message to her (she said she has since forwarded a list of boat, trailer and container owners; the city has confirmed it received it).

Hines said she started notifying boat owners when she found out about the pending closure; she called and e-mailed customers in other states, some of whom she was unable to reach. Hines said the boat yard didn't send letters until two days before the sheriff locked the gates, which made for a chaotic exit for some owners who were able to move their boats.

“There was a lot of thievery going on, a lot of stuff being stolen off of boats. It was just a wild circus going on before they locked those gates,” Hines said.

Hines and Connelly expressed frustration over what they said is a lack of communication from city staffers about how they intend to proceed. Connelly questioned the city’s failure to put a plan in place ahead of the eviction.

“The city organization has known for, what, six months or more that they’ve been working on getting Nelson’s out of there,” he said. “Nobody stopped and thought, ‘What happens when Nelson leaves?’”

A sign on the gates instructs people with property on the site to call a number belonging to the city's outside attorney, Kevin Montee. But both Hines and Connelly said this week they haven't been able to get answers from the attorney.

The eviction notice on Nelson's gate says property owners have 15 days to retrieve their things - a deadline that will be reached on Saturday. But Connelly said almost no one has been allowed on the property.

He and Hines said some of the boats on the yard are almost fully restored, while other owners will need to find a new place to work on their vessels. And Connelly said there are very few of them left in the Bay Area.

Mocanu conceded the city has had to learn a lot about boats since evicting Nelson’s, a job she said the local marine community has stepped in to help with.

The city has had to ensure boats have a clear, lien-free title before they can consider releasing them to owners, she said, and they want to make sure any derelict vessels aren’t pushed into local waterways. They also needed to figure out how to move boats in a way that they don’t be damaged, and to develop protocols for handling hazardous materials on the site, she said.

“We don’t want people to come and move their property and all of a sudden a fire starts. We want to make it so people can access the property safely,” Mocanu said.

The city has also been working since December to figure out what other businesses set up shop at the Nelson’s Marine site; she said the city’s leasing agent for the Point, PM Realty, didn’t have lease agreements for other businesses there.

“Some of those companies are good start-ups. And we’re trying to accommodate them,” Mocanu said.

She said boat owners will be given a chance to retrieve their vessels.

"The city will not dispose of anything without giving people proper notification and reasonable time to collect their items," said Mocanu, who said the notice was posted to make it clear the city is in possession of the property and to keep trespassers away.

She said the city's plan is to send notices to everyone on the list provided by Hines and to others who have contacted the city. "Our message will be ... come and get your stuff," she said.

The episode has led some to question the city’s commitment to the marine community. Hines said Nelson, who was one of the Point’s earliest tenants after two decades on Clement Avenue, put $1 million into space he was leasing and had been paying his rent (the city sued Nelson’s in 2011 for non-payment of rent but the suit was dismissed). Mocanu said that city leaders would like to extend the area at Alameda Point where maritime businesses will operate.

Nelson's former customers said they are eager to see the situation addressed.

“It’s just a bad situation,” Connelly said.

Related: City evicting boat yard from Alameda Point


Donna Eyestone's picture
Submitted by Donna Eyestone on Fri, May 24, 2013

NIce headline on this story Michele :-)