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Pirates Of The Oakland Alameda Riviera

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  • Pirates Of The Oakland Alameda Riviera

    Jonathan DeLong was sleeping in a berth of his sailboat at the shore of Oakland’s Jack London Square when he heard a thump. Startled awake, he knew trouble was right outside.

    A woman stood on the dock in the inky darkness while a man glided toward DeLong’s sailboat in a dinghy, both seemingly intent on boarding. To DeLong, the scene was familiar: Countless times, he’d seen people prowl the bay on small watercraft, using bolt cutters or angle grinders to burglarize boats, or to pry open the fiberglass “dock boxes” where estuary residents keep their supplies.

    When he sternly confronted and shooed away the pair of trespassers on a July summer night, DeLong said, he was already frustrated and weary from the constant break-ins — the latest illustration of a property crime surge that’s gripped Oakland and spilled onto the waterfront.

    Members of the Oakland Police Department Marine Unit coast on the water after a training exercise.

    Lea Suzuki/The Chronicle

    As Oakland police grapple with rising burglaries, robberies and carjackings on land, residents on the water say they’re getting little help and are left on their own to chase out intruders.

    Some have discussed arming themselves. Others have ventured out to reclaim their stolen property. Several bemoaned the lack of law enforcement response, saying it’s allowed crime to spiral and encouraged vigilantism. In recent months, a malaise has settled over the kitschy houseboats and lagoons, as boaters who sought an island lifestyle are suddenly finding themselves terrified.

    Reviewing calls for service from Alameda’s 13 marinas, Police Chief Nishant Joshi found a slight decrease in calls for service from Aug. 23, 2022, to the same date this year. He also noted that this year, fewer of those calls generated a police report, and that the marinas account for less than 1% of the city’s total calls. Still, Joshi acknowledged the importance of perception.

    “Our community members who live on the water are vulnerable,” the chief said. “To know that somebody can access their backyard because their backyard is a waterway, that can be alarming, it can be troubling, it can be frustrating. That level of intrusiveness definitely isn’t going to align with raw numbers.”

    Alameda maintains a part-time maritime unit to patrol the waterways, though its officers are assigned to other duties. Oakland has one full-time maritime patrol officer, Kaleo Albino, who said he’s observed thefts spiking in the estuary over the past six weeks and has organized night patrols to help quell it. However, he’s had to contend with limited staffing and the vastness of a bay “where it’s easy to hide” and quickly dismantle a boat engine, he said.

    “They’re just taking advantage of our response times,” Albino said, referring to the difficulty of tracking down perpetrators.

    Now, the harbors are losing business, with slips left vacant as people become reluctant to store boats at known burglary hot spots. Encampments sprawl along the shoreline, consisting of battered dinghies, inflatable rafts, and even a former U.S. Navy vessel that appeared to house several people before it sank in December. DeLong and others say they’ve become desperate.

    “It’s almost the Wild West,” said Steve Meckfessel, managing investor at the Marina Village Yacht Harbor in Alameda. “It’s almost as if you were on a ship and there are pirates out there, and there’s no government, no one to protect you.”

    “We’ve all gotten to the point where we know there is going to be no response” from police, DeLong said, noting that some neighbors have watched helplessly as intruders break their locks and swipe their possessions. Some wake up to find their vessels and storage units pillaged.

    Marina residents believe the “pirates” live in the half-dozen encampments scattered along the estuary, or on “anchor-out” vessels that are illegally moored on the water, though there is no hard evidence that homeless people are perpetrators. Albino surmised that one or two of roughly two dozen people living in unpermitted aquatic dwellings are committing crimes. Nonetheless, reports have surfaced in recent weeks of thieves raiding yacht clubs, sailing centers and marinas throughout the estuary, pilfering boats and stripping out the motors or painting the hulls silver to disguise them.

    Last week thieves struck the Outboard Motor Shop, a repair facility near the Park Street Bridge. Under cover of night, owner Craig Jacobsen said, they loaded stolen life rafts, tool bags and other goods onto a 15-foot section of dock before towing the whole structure to an encampment at Oakland’s Union Point Park.

    “They took it over to their little flotilla,” Jacobsen said in an interview, referring to a stash of anchor-outs and allegedly stolen boats run aground at Union Point, where industrial buildings line rocky beaches strewn with trash.

    When Jacobsen called 911 to report the stolen dock, he said Oakland police initially told him that all officers were tied up addressing violent crime. Reluctantly, the staff of Outboard Motor went to Union Point Park to confront the alleged perpetrators themselves, where Jacobsen called 911 again. He said four officers showed up, arresting one man for possession of stolen property.

    Victims of the waterfront capers shared their stories in letters to the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, a state body formed to protect the bay and surrounding waterfront areas. Among the letter writers was Michael Gorman, co-director of the junior sailing program at Encinal Yacht Club in Alameda. He recalled an incident at 3 a.m. on June 13 in which thieves cruising around the harbor on a sailboat stole two of the club’s $20,000 coach rescue boats and towed them to Union Point.

    Employees of the yacht club combed the estuary and found the boats later that morning. By the time Gorman arrived at 8:30 a.m., he said, the perpetrators had removed the motor from one vessel and “knifed so many holes” in the body that it sank. Someone was asleep in the other boat, which the encampment dwellers “willingly” returned when the owners asked for it, according to the letter. Gorman declined to be interviewed.

    Last week the commission held a hearing at its San Francisco chambers to discuss the waterfront encampments and the rise in thefts and burglaries. Adrienne Klein, the commission’s enforcement program manager, delivered a presentation on the actions that local and state officials had taken thus far: an effort by Oakland in March of this year to sweep out a camp at the Embarcadero between Dennison and Livingston streets; a $100,000 award from the state for Alameda officials to remove derelict boats from the water; and an ordinance passed by Oakland City Council in March, empowering police to seize occupied boats that are anchored illegally in city harbors.

    The list of government commitments and accomplishments failed to impress beleaguered houseboat residents and mariners who had gathered in the board chambers, or lined up to speak over video conference.

    “Piracy is the only way I can think of describing the situation,” DeLong said at the meeting, conjuring scenes of night marauders who slink along the water on dilapidated boats.

    Other speakers at the meeting described an atmosphere of fear. Leah Iocco, a boater at Marina Village Yacht Harbor, said that when she arrives at the dock around dusk, she wonders whether someone will be inside the boat, waiting for her.

    Marina Village boat owner Marianne Armand choked back sobs and criticized the Oakland and Alameda police departments for what she saw as inaction, saying they do nothing even though residents have videos of thieves unloading stolen goods at a public dock in Alameda.

    Roughly a dozen barnacled, weather-beaten boats were tethered to another public dock near Jack London Square on Friday afternoon, including a yacht with gashes in the hull and a name painted on its side: “The Saxy Lady.” Dogs roamed the gangplank, which was loaded with bicycles and other possessions.

    “We get people coming out and saying we’re pirates,” said Amanda Nguyen, who lives in the Saxy Lady with her husband, Han Nguyen. While the Nguyens pick up discarded furniture and other scavenged goods from the bay, they say they have not stolen from anyone. Amanda said she and Han have tried to obtain a slip to berth their boat legally, though no one would rent to them.

    The crime solutions that estuary residents propose are simple: consistent enforcement; collaboration among the various government agencies in charge of regulating the water; assistance for “anchor-out” dwellers who are down on their luck and not committing crimes; and cleanup of abandoned or sunken boats polluting the bay.

    But at this point, such demands seem beyond the capabilities of cash-strapped city governments, an already strained Police Department in Oakland, and a commission of regulators with no authority to stop crime.

    “I’ve heard the voices of fear and terror,” Commissioner Rebecca Eisen said at the end of the hearing. “We are obviously not a law enforcement agency, but we understand what we’re hearing. We’re going to work with others to figure out if there’s anything we can do to be helpful.”

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  • #2
    In some countries, they still cut off one of your fingers everytime you get caught stealing.

    Here in California, they get a slap on the wrist and then are released to do more theivery.


    • #3

      Marina residents say Oakland pirates becoming more brazen after several ships stolen

      " I just found out my nest egg has salmonella" Photo Gallery