Tom Butt for Richmond City Council The Tom Butt E-Forum About Tom Butt Platform Endorsements of Richmond Councilmember Tom Butt Accomplishments Contribute to Tom Butt for Richmond City Council Contact Tom Butt Tom Butt Archives
E-Mail Forum
Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor

Sometimes described as a “pirate harbor,” Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor is one of Richmond’s most mysterious outposts occupying a rare banana belt of perennial warm weather at the end of an four-mile dead end road. I first discovered the area when I began working on the rehabilitation of East Brother Lighthouse in 1978. The yacht harbor was the jumping off point for supply boats and later became the embarkation point for lighthouse guests.

Formerly owned by a pair of sometimes prickly men from Oakland, relationships with the lighthouse were , sometimes strained. On one occasion, for some long-forgotten dispute, the yacht harbor owners cut off access, and a temporary but dangerous landing was cobbled together among the remains of early 20th Century sardine canneries a few hundred feet away on City of Richmond property.

The situation was resolved only when former Contra Costa County Supervisor Tom Powers, then sitting on BCDC, made it a condition of the operating permit for the yacht harbor that access to East Brother be provided.

In recent years, the current owners, Eric Johnson and his wife Rosalind, have been great supporters of East Brother.

As the following story indicates, the yacht harbor is looking for a new owner. The Richmond City Council is helping pay for an appraisal in hopes of facilitating a partnership, possibly involving some public agency, that will participate in future ownership and preserve parts of the property for public access and the San Francisco Bay Trail. The East Bay Regional Park District also pitched in by funding a study to amend the Point San Pablo Open Space Study to include the yacht harbor property.

The future of the Point San Pablo Peninsula, including some 50 acres the City of Richmond owns at the former Terminal 4 right at the point, has remained somewhat up in the air waiting to see what happens at Point Molate. The entire area is so isolated that it is not served by city sewers.

Part of the Point San Pablo community is the little known Point San Pablo Sportsman’s Club (sometimes confused with the Point San Pablo Yacht Club on Cutting Boulevard), a cozy venue that hasn’t changed a bit in at least 50 years. Friday night spaghetti dinners with concerts featuring some remarkably good musicians have become a part of the campaign to boost the public visibility by the Point San Pablo Preservation Society.

For more information, see:

·         http://www.pspyh.com/index.htm

·         http://www.pointsanpablo.org/index.html

·         http://www.pointrichmond.com/pointsanpablo/ptsanpablo.htm

·         http://www.archive.org/stream/pointsanpablo00clarrich#page/n1/mode/2up (A oral fascinating history by Alln Clarke)

Residents seek to preserve Richmond marina of floating homes, boats

By Katherine Tam
West County Times

Posted: 06/06/2009 12:00:00 AM PDT

Updated: 06/06/2009 12:39:13 PM PDT


Peter Thelin leaves his office at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory every day and commutes 2 hours to his boat docked at the Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor.

Just north of the old Point Molate Naval Fuel Depot in Richmond, the harbor is a colorful collection of floating homes and bobbing boats. Surrounded by wooded hillsides and the water. Quiet except for the seabirds. Accessible by bumpy, windy road. One way in, one way out.

The 50 or so residents are a diverse bunch: mechanics, contractors, computer engineers, retired doctors, opticians and real estate experts. They are drawn here to be close to the water and by the simultaneous isolation from and proximity to the city.

"We planned to live here temporarily and then move back to Alameda, where it would be half the commute. That was three years ago," Thelin said. "You know your neighbors; they know you. You don't lock your doors."

They fear it will disappear.

Private parties including Chevron want to buy the property and have made overtures, residents say. They fear a new owner would scrap the harbor because maintenance and repairs are pricey, evict the tenants and block the public from Point San Pablo. Doing so would cut access to the historic East Brother Lighthouse, a bed and breakfast perched on an island that has been reachable only by boat from the harbor for 30 years. It also would make it hard to complete the planned public biking and walking trail that is to encircle the Bay, they added.

Residents have formed the nonprofit Point San Pablo Preservation Society and asked public agencies for help. The City of Richmond is paying half the cost to appraise the property, which consists of 15 acres of mostly uplands and 15 acres of water and docks. The East Bay Regional Park District is spending $10,000 to study what role the harbor could play in the region.

Ideally, the preservation society would partner with a public or nonprofit entity to buy the property, said Robert Edney, group president. The society would manage the harbor and provide public access for fishing, kayaking, picnicking and other activities. The group also is looking at opening a Point San Pablo history museum and outdoor nature program with special programs for at-risk youth.

"We are right at the interface between land and water. It really gives you an appreciation for the Bay," Edney said. "To me, it's irreplaceable. You're a very short distance out of urban Richmond and yet you can't see anything but a harbor building."

Chevron property surrounds the harbor. The road that connects the harbor to Point Molate sits partially on a Chevron easement. Brent Tippen, spokesman for the Richmond refinery, said the company does not comment on real estate negotiations.

The harbor is both public and private. The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, which oversees construction, dredging and other activities in the Bay, has declared that about 45,000 square feet along the shoreline is public. The BCDC permit for the harbor also calls for building plazas, a trail, overlook areas and interpretive signs.

A new owner would not necessarily be tied to the same permit, but changes made to the property would need to follow BCDC guidelines and cause no damage to the Bay, said Bob Batha, the agency's permit chief. No law prevents a new owner from closing the harbor.

Harbor owner Eric Johnson is open to selling. When he bought the land in 2001, he and his wife spent a year purging it of methamphetamine labs and vandals who burned tires at night and dragged payphones and newsracks here to ransack them for money inside.

But he said the physical challenge of guarding the property, sometimes with guns, hasn't been as difficult as dealing with multiple agencies and their regulations and other entities who want all or part of the land.

"I'm weary of the politics," Johnson said. "It's a tough torch to bear."

Johnson said he isn't willing to sell the property to just anyone. Nor would he want a new owner to shut down the harbor and shut out the residents, he said.

"Would you?" he asked.

Point San Pablo was discovered by accident in the 1920s by a lost sea captain seeking shelter from a Christmas Day storm, said Thelin, who is the preservation society's historian. The captain dredged the cove, and sunk and tied eight wooden schooners end-to-end in a ring to form the breakwater.

The peninsula bustled in its early years. Bass fishermen flocked to the water in droves in the 1940s. A whaling station churned out Moby Dick Whale Meat and was the last whaling station in North America until it closed in 1976. A fire destroyed the facility in 1989.

The area captured Hollywood's attention. Portions of the 1955 movie "Blood Alley" starring John Wayne and Lauren Bacall was filmed here.

A 1980 aerial photo shows the 212 slips nearly full. The small restaurant near the harbor's entrance -- first serving French fare, later Chinese food -- used to serve locals and Chevron workers who stopped by, Clark said.

Today, the yacht harbor is a quieter place. Johnson's diligence for ousting strangers has successfully chased away vandals, dopers and thieves, but visitors who want to fish and explore also stay away, residents say. About half the slips are empty. The restaurant is closed.

Johnson said he hasn't had the funds to build the plazas, waterfront garden and other projects outlined in the BCDC permit and has been granted extensions. The preservation society wants the permit completed.

If the land were owned by a public or nonprofit entity, the harbor could seek grants and other revenue that a private landowner may not. The money could be used to make the additions and fix the harbor, including repairing levees and dredging the property so floating homes don't sit in mud in low tide.

The harbor has been the access point to the East Brother Lighthouse for 30 years, said Councilman Tom Butt, who heads the foundation that manages the lighthouse built in 1874.

"We would lose our access (if the harbor closed). There are other possibilities but they could be very expensive and they would involve entitlements that aren't in place now," Butt said.

Stephen Clark has lived at the harbor for 15 years aboard a boat he spent two years building using wood from an old Petaluma barn. He stood on the levee near sunset, taking in a sprawling vista that stretches from Point Molate to Marin County to Vallejo to Hercules and back to Richmond.

"We feel for ourselves and the public that the harbor is in danger. And we think it needs to be preserved, for everyone," Clark said.

Reach Katherine Tam at 510-262-2787 or ktam@bayareanewsgroup.com.


·  View a slide show of photos from the Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor at www.ContraCostaTimes.com

·  To learn more about the Point San Pablo Preservation Society, go online to www.pointsanpablo.org





Point San Pablo Preservation Society

Robert Edney, President




Imminent Loss of Local Treasure


May 26, 2009, Richmond, CA


Take a wrong turn…you might think you’re lost, but – instead -- you just might find yourself at “Lost Harbor”.   It happens.  People exit off of the last Westbound 580 off-ramp before the bridge and wind their way out to Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor, nicknamed “Lost Harbor”.  If you’re lucky enough to make such a journey, you’ll be taken by complete surprise and most likely delighted by your discovery.


Situated over the hill, on the far side of Chevron, this quaint little paradise is not just a harbor, but also a community of people. This small village of floating homes and boat dwellings is nestled along the Richmond seashore, amidst a scene of days long passed. You have found yourself at Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor, long time home to approx 50 people, many low-income or retired.  The Harbor is also a recreational marina, offering – once rehabilitated – slips for 212 boats.


But there is trouble in paradise…the owners of this special property want to sell, and eager investors -- including a neighboring giant -- are fast advancing. This could close the harbor and all of Point San Pablo to the public forever, or transform this quaint jewel into an exclusive rich man’s playground.


The Point San Pablo Preservation Society has been formed to both bring this issue to the public’s attention and to partner with city agencies and environmentally concerned non-profits to purchase and save this historical area for the future use of all people.  Current permits call for significant, park-like public access, including boating, fishing, picnicking, hiking and more with over 45,000 square feet permanently dedicated to public use.  All this may be lost as time is running out rapidly.


Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor is a historically significant location all on its own.  It also provides access to the site of the last operating West Coast whaling station, East Brothers Light Station (a working lighthouse and non-profit bed and breakfast), Winehaven – once the largest winery in North America, and Point Molate Park, currently closed to the public.


The Harbor is the proposed terminus of the Bay Trail - it’s pristine uplands have been proposed to East Bay Regional Parks for hiking and bicycling trails. It can also offer a protected stopover for kayaks and sailboats on the Bay Area Water Trail and the proposed ferry to Point Pinole Regional Park. There are now and will continue to be professional sightseeing and fishing tours on San Pablo Bay.


Two major plans are now in the actual developmental stage. First is “The Lost Harbor”, an outdoor nature program serving the youth and underprivileged of the San Francisco Bay Area.  Here youth can once again connect with nature and develop a deep sense of respect for the environment - all the while learning to be productive citizens. Second is the creation of The Point San Pablo Historical Museum, a public information center displaying and preserving historical information including many priceless old photographs and artifacts from the entire Point San Pablo peninsula.


The Harbor is surrounded on three sides by Chevron owned land and currently represents the only public access to the eastern side of Point San Pablo.  The Point San Pablo Preservation Society believes that there is a clear and present danger of losing public access to this unique property --  including  shoreline access – forever.  Although this may not be the most opportune time to launch a major preservation effort, the risk of not acting now includes losing this public access anchor forever.  Richmond City Councilmember Tom Butt has spearheaded the effort to work cooperatively with the Society in an effort to conserve the property. The City of Richmond and the Society are sharing the cost of an appraisal as a first step in considering preservation efforts. And East Bay Regional Parks has set aside considerable funding to assess development of the property.  


For more information go to www.pointsanpablo.org.



If you’d like more information, or to schedule an interview, please  call Robert Edney at 510-406-0151 or e-mail:  robert@pointsanpablo.org.