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Berkeley Folklore: Houseboats in Sausalito 1. The House
By Edward Ordman (c) 2015
I cannot vouch for all the details
here. It was pieced together from a series of very short articles in
the San Francisco Chronicle, and I've had to fill in to make it a
Sausalito, California, is located
north of San Francisco, just over the Golden Gate Bridge. It
has a nice calm harbor on San Francisco Bay. With buildable land
being at a premium in the San Francisco area, housing is expensive,
and one result has been that hundreds of houseboats are moored off
the waterfront at Sausalito. Many are occupied by people
working in San Francisco. It is well worth looking at a
satellite photograph of the area, e.g. on Google Earth (tm), since
it is hard to understand otherwise the density of the houseboat
I take it that maritime law doesn't well
cover all the situations that arise when there are this many
houseboats and that the city of Sausalito attempts to apply some
city codes out on the water as to houseboat locations and the like.
Sometimes the codes cause problems in this unusual application, and
sometimes they are helpful.
One day, while a man was at work in San
Francisco, a sea lion boarded his houseboat. The sea lion apparently
found this more comfortable than the rocks in the bay, and decided
to take up residence. When the man returned, the sea lion would not
let him board. It is hard to argue about turf with an
eight-hundred-pound sea lion. Apparently the sea lion was able
to fish at night and return, as it stayed for days.
The boat owner asked various
authorities what he could do. The answer: apparently nothing. It is
illegal to disturb a wild animal in its natural habitat, and San
Francisco Bay out on the water was legally part of its
habitat. For some days the newspapers reported on the story
and that all sorts of efforts were being made to find a solution.
The neighboring houseboats complained bitterly of the smell and the
fact that they regarded the situation as dangerous.
A first legal step was
found: The neighbors filed a complaint with the city that the
man was keeping an unlicensed house pet. The city announced it would
not license any house pet that large. A warning was issued to the
boat owner, but the sea lion did not depart. Shortly thereafter,
formal legal charges were filed against the boat owner for keeping
the unlicensed pet, and the matter was referred to the city Animal
Even in California,
dog-catchers are not equipped to deal with sea lions. But now
that there was a court proceeding in progress, the officer could ask
for the assistance of other law enforcement agencies. The Coast
Guard was contacted, and with some difficulty they loaded the sea
lion onto a barge and took him into custody as evidence that could
be introduced in court in the case.
Once they were far enough
away, the Coast Guard examined the alleged house pet. They
discovered that he was, in fact, a wild animal. Accordingly, they
released him. But they did this with enough bureaucratic delay
and at enough distance that the houseboat owner had time to erect a
sturdy wall around the sides of his houseboat to keep off sea lions.
Once the sea lion
was released, the city found that it no longer had evidence to
prosecute the case of the unlicensed pet. The charges against the
boat owner were dropped.
There is, of
course, a moral: Sometimes, the law taketh away.
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