Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Rich vs. poor, on Pete's Harbor

Today's Chron tells about the age old struggle between the haves and have nots, or have not much, soon to be less. The lure of the water and a modest boat tied up to the dock allows those without much to have some sense of home and freedom.  Here's what happening in Redwood City at Pete's Harbor: 

Pete's Harbor development sparks fight

Published 9:49 p.m., Monday, October 29, 2012
  • About half of the 144 people living on boats when Pete's Harbor management sent eviction notices last month have left. Photo: Michael Short, Special To The Chronicle / SF
    About half of the 144 people living on boats when Pete's Harbor management sent eviction notices last month have left. Photo: Michael Short, Special To The Chronicle / SF

There are two versions of the California dream. In one, you live in a new bayside apartment close to Silicon Valley, with a view of the bay and the hills. In the other you live in a boat on the dock of the bay, in a community of boaters.
In the one version, your home is only a short commute from work. In the other, you can slip the dock lines on your home and sail off into the sunset.
The two visions are at the heart of a dispute at Pete's Harbor, a charming small marina just off Bayshore Freeway in Redwood City.
Paula Uccelli, the owner of the harbor and the widow of Pete Uccelli, who built the harbor in 1958, wants to sell Pete's to a developer who is planning to build a 411-unit apartment complex.
The development would mean the end of the way of life for about 50 or so people who live aboard boats at Pete's. They've been given eviction notices and have to move by Jan. 15.
The boaters, a close-knit group that is almost like a family, are fighting the development. A decision is expected when the issue comes up before the Redwood City Planning Commission meeting starting at 7 p.m Tuesday.

Previous plan lost

This is not the first battle over the future of Pete's Harbor. In 2001, Pete Uccelli sold an option on the property to a developer who planned a 1,900-unit condominium complex and private marina on the site. That plan was turned down after a Redwood City election battle in 2004.
The current plan calls for a much smaller development, but it has stirred up the same emotions.
"This is my home," said Buckley Stone, who lives with his wife, Wendy, and a cat aboard a 41-foot sailboat. "I've lived in Redwood City for 20 years. This is my town, I eat here, I shop here, I vote here."
Like the others, Stone says he has nowhere else to go. Because of legal restrictions, berths where boaters can live aboard are hard to come by. "Finding one is like playing musical chairs," said Bob Pearson, who also lives on a boat at Pete's. "When the music stops there just aren't enough chairs."
There are two attractions to living on a boat. One is lifestyle. "We all watch out for each other and help each other out," Stone said.
Another is affordability. Pete's charges $7.50 a foot for berth rental, plus a $250 live-aboard fee, which means someone can live on a small boat for less than $600 a month.
"There's a lot of hard-working people here," said Pearson. "We're not talking about a gang of ruffians. No drugs here. None of that."
The development would also probably mean the end of a community of people who live in recreational vehicles, who are parked all around the edge of the harbor.
There were 144 people living on boats when Pete's Harbor management set the eviction deadline last month. Half of them have left; the harbor has put yellow warning tape on the vacated berths. It looks as if the empty berths were quarantined.

Developer blamed

The harbor tenants all say good things about the Uccelli family. They have always helped out people who had problems, they say. Pete Uccelli died in 2005. The worst thing the tenants will say about his widow is that she doesn't come around the docks much anymore.
Instead, they blame the developer, the Pauls Corp. of Denver, which they portray as a heartless corporation, in it for the money.
But any observer can see the way things are going along the shoreline. The old Peninsula Marina, just up the road, gave way to condos just recently.
It's a development called One Marina. "One marina down, one to go," the tenants say.
Redwood City and the Peninsula are riding a high-tech wave, and homes in the $500,000 range are hard to come by.
Ted Hannig, a spokesman for Paula Uccelli, said Pete's Harbor has been on the market for 10 years.
"Everybody has been on a month-to-month lease since 2002, so this should not have been a surprise," he said.
The tenants, he said, "knew change was coming, but they don't like change. It's emotional, it's unpleasant."
Hannig said the new development "will be a wonderful place to live." Building it, he said, would create 2,000 jobs, and when it is finished it will bring in $2.4 million a year in property tax, instead of the $16,000 a year the marina pays now. That money will go to the community, to schools.

'Good for community'

"Pete's Harbor has been family owned for 60 years and Mrs. Uccelli is very comfortable with the plan. It will be good for the community."
The tenants say they are not against all development, just the one under consideration. They would like to see it scaled back. "We are open to change," said Leslie Webster, who lives at Pete's. "As long as it is reasonable change."
They want a harbor and a marina and some kind of housing at Pete's. But mostly, they want to stay.
"Sometimes, we just pull out of the harbor, and go up the slough a bit and drop the hook and just be alone," Stone said. "I fell in love with living on a boat a long time ago."

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