San Diego considers restricting on anchoring near North Island

City Council committee recommends ordinance to prevent abandoning of vessels.

SAN DIEGO — Anchoring boats near the entrance of San Diego Bay might become a severely restricted activity, thanks to an ordinance proposal recently approved by a City Council committee.

San Diego City Council’s Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee approved a proposed Municipal Code amendment seeking to prevent boats from being abandoned or left unattended for more than two hours at Zuniga Jetty Shoal, a shallow stretch of the bay located near the harbor entrance.

City staff stated abandoned or unattended boats have become a significant nuisance – particularly for the U.S. Navy – in the stretch of San Diego Bay near Coronado’s north shore and Point Loma/Shelter Island.

“Officials from the United States Navy report from November 2010 through September 2017 there have been at least 61 abandoned vessels that have sunk, beached or broken apart on this stretch of coastline. In calendar year 2016, there were 21 cases of abandoned vessels on their beach,” city staff stated in a report to committee members. “These abandoned vessels pose a threat to the environment. In some cases, there are hazardous materials on board that can spill into the ocean.”

Shallow waters, wind exposure and ocean conditions are often to blame for vessels breaking from their anchors and becoming a potential liability, according to city staff.

“This is a shallow water space directly south of North Island Naval Base,” city staff stated of the Zuniga Jetty Shoal. “This area is exposed to wind, currents and swell from the open ocean. Ocean conditions in this vicinity can be hazardous, especially during storms. Vessel owners or operators often anchor in the shoals and leave their vessels unattended for prolonged periods of time or altogether abandoned.

“When ocean conditions or weather become turbulent, these vessels can break free of their anchor lines and sink or become beached,” city staff continued. “Wave action causes them to break apart.”

A city staff report on the proposed ordinance cited one incident – reported by the Navy – of a vessel breaking apart from its anchor and spilling between 200 and 400 gallons of gasoline into the bay.

“Expenses associated with clean up can be steep,” city staff stated in its report to committee members. “The Navy reports one incident generated a cost of $50,000.”

Other issues associated with vessels breaking away from anchors at the north end of San Diego Bay include marine debris, according to city staff.

“Debris from vessels that become wrecks (fiberglass, plastic, wood) end up on the beach or ocean floor. Wrecks are a significant source of marine pollution and can contain oil, fuel, grease and other motor pollutants, as well as materials that affect water quality and marine life,” city staff stated. “Toxic substances on board can also cause chemical contamination of the food chain in the area and have toxic effects on individual organisms.”

City officials, in hopes of addressing the concerns associated with abandoned or unattended vessels reportedly breaking off their anchors, urged San Diego’s policymakers to update local laws and regulate anchoring activity at Zuniga Jetty Shoal.

Any boat anchored in the regulated area would be allowed to be unattended for up to two hours, according to the proposed ordinance.

“Vessels in violation of this proposed section would be subject to impound and registered owners would be responsible for existing impound fees,” city staff stated in its report to committee members. “If a registered owner is non-responsive or unable to be located, future costs for vessel destruction could be incurred by the city and would be funded by the General Fund.”

San Diego Lifeguard Chief Rick Wurts said several boats have been abandoned in Zuniga Jetty area, eventually breaking apart from their respective anchors and crashing ashore – costing the Navy tens of thousands of dollars.

The jetty area in question is technically within the city of San Diego’s jurisdiction, but Wurts said a working group is in place to create a cooperative agreement for monitoring and enforcement.

Officials ultimately hope the proposed ordinance, if approved, would allow for people to pursue recreational activities in the area while preventing others from anchoring their vessels and leaving them for waste.

The Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee unanimously approved the proposed ordinance at its Oct. 4 meeting; the proposed ordinance must still be finalized by city staff and later voted on by the full council.

Council members Chris Cate, Barbara Fry, Lorie Zapf and Christopher Ward sit on the committee.

Port of San Diego photo

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