Small Craft Harbor Commission presentation expands on L.A. County’s definition of ‘unseaworthiness’

Ordinance has targeted liveaboards and floating homes since 1999; floating homes ultimately found unseaworthy.

MARINA DEL REY — Floating homes have long been a target of discrimination in California. Marina Del Rey now harbors one of the last marinas in the state that allows floating homes to exists – and that might soon be coming to an end.

A presentation to refresh the definition of seaworthiness was given at the Aug. 8 Small Craft Harbor Commission meeting. Seaworthiness is specifically addressed in the Harbor Department division of Los Angeles Code of Ordinance, particularly section 19.12.1060.

A brief history of the unseaworthy ordinance was also provided during the Aug. 8 presentation. County staff stated the ordinance had come into effect in 1995 and floating homeowners, at that time, were given exemption, under the condition the vessel was not sailed, transferred, materially modified or abandoned through August 2005.

An amendment was made to this ordinance in 1999, deeming any vessel “incapable of traveling on the waters in the state of California” as unseaworthy. Floating homes, according to the ordinance, were no longer considered seaworthy vessels and thus began a slew of problems especially for floating homeowners. Floating homes, other than those exempt from the amendment, could no longer legally anchor or moor in California.

In response, during the presentation, city staff stated that this amendment was addressing safety issues on the water as well as liveaboard sanitary issues. The amendment, according to staff, was also addressing derelict vessels by setting standards so boat owners could not let their vessels fall into disrepair.

Emotional commentary ensured with speakers making statements about the quality of floating homes, commenting that some had been built to “quality standards by Howard Hughes” in earlier days.

One speaker relayed the difficulties of houseboat owners to re-sell their vessels, which at one time might have cost upwards of $200,000. The seaworthy ordinance amendment that passed in 1999 rendered most floating homes unsalable, according to the speaker, causing sellers to have to “crush” their floating homes for a cost of $11,000.

Another speaker said, “Nobody is doing anything to help the boaters who are paying for the slips, who are making the marina what it is,” adding that he had tried to make an appointment with Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn, but could not get past her staff. The speaker also compared the plight of the floating homeowners to eminent domain and that the city should offer “current, fair market value” for the floating properties.

Commissioners did raise questions as to whether or not the ordinance amendment was fair to floating homeowners in terms of resale value. Comments were also made that floating homes have been able to stay in docks up and down the coast of the United States, hinting that perhaps there should be an open discussion as to whether California could also make concessions to allow some.

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