Crime on Oakland/Alameda Estuary: How Did We Get Here and What Now

Crime on Oakland/Alameda Estuary: How Did We Get Here and What Now

By way of background, from 2011-2016 I was the harbor master of the Alameda Marina. At that time the estuary was inundated with anchor-outs, 40-50, a real Waterworld. Our marina suffered considerable crime, primarily the theft of outboard motors from dry stored vessels. From my office I would look across the estuary to an anchor field off the Southeast end of Coast Guard Island and I couldn’t believe that this was allowed to happen.

I organized a couple of meetings at the Jack London Aquatic Center with Oakland and Alameda police, Alameda County Sheriff, Coast Guard, BCDC, Alameda County supervisor, Coastal Commission, harbor masters and yacht clubs. The meetings were well attended, and everyone agreed that it was a problem, but nothing was resolved. There was, however, a great deal of very beneficial networking.

After these meetings, Jim Gordon, who was the lead of the Oakland Police Department (OPD) marine patrol unit went to a meeting in Sacramento with CalRecycle. At the time they were involved in the cleanup of derelict and abandoned vessels in the delta. Jim said that we could use their help on the estuary. They agreed to provide $650,000, but it required matching funds. A grant proposal was written to the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, which had received the cash settlement for the Cosco Busan container ship that hit the Bay Bridge and caused an oil spill.

That matching fund was awarded so we had $1.3 million. Then along came the EPA and they kicked in $3.6 million. And it was decided to go big dealing with more than just the anchor-outs. An old wharf was removed off Union Point Park that had been an attractive nuisance. Two sunken tugs were raised and removed from the Alameda shoreline and a tug and barge with hazardous materials was removed from San Leandro Bay.

All in all, a very successful multi-agency program at the end of which the estuary was completely cleared of all anchor-outs. An important note was that the agencies that provided funding said they weren’t going to do it again, it was a one-shot deal. Maintaining the estuary would be dependent on ongoing local law enforcement.

Unfortunately, over time there was a progressive increase of anchor-outs on the Oakland side of the estuary. In 2019, Kaleo Albino, the lead marine patrol officer for the OPD, undertook another cleanup project. Vessels were tagged with 30-day notice to leave and many did. Those that didn’t were impounded, dragged up the boat launch ramp at the Jack London Aquatic Center and crushed in the parking lot.

Two of the offenders who ignored the postings found an attorney who sued the City of Oakland for $900,000. Rather than fight the case, the city ultimately settled for $280,000. Worse than the waste of money, the most tragic outcome of this suit is that it put the Oakland marine patrol unit into a de facto stand down. And of course, the net result is that once again the number of anchor-outs built up along the Oakland shoreline.

From 2017-2022 I was the harbor master for the Oakland Marinas, responsible for five marinas from Jack London Square to Union Point on the Oakland side of the estuary. One challenging issue I had to contend with during that time was a massive homeless encampment in Union Point Park adjacent to the marina.

I tried in vain to get the city to clear the park but was basically told to pound sand as they had bigger problems to deal with. Since the park was on the shoreline, a BCDC permit was required when it was built. With community pressure, BCDC initially issued a notice of violation which was ignored. They then issued a Cease-and-Desist order with the threat of a $6,000/day penalty if the park was not cleared.

And so, the homeless encampments were removed from the park and along the Oakland Embarcadero. The point in this story is that the BCDC has the tools to demand that the City of Oakland be responsive to these problems.

What has changed over the past couple of months is that a criminal element from these anchor-outs has been pillaging marinas along the estuary. Marina residents have been terrorized and are speaking up to demand protection from law enforcement.

I have been asked by the Alameda City Manager to join her, the city’s public relations officer and the chief of police to meet to plan a community meeting on the estuary crime issue. This certainly is a positive development, though the problem mainly emanates from the Oakland side of the estuary.

Editor’s note: This is an edited column Brock De Lappe wrote to Charlie Helms, the Executive Director of the California Association of Harbor Masters & Port Captains.