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Media Coverage
Sea Scouts Hope To Dock In Richmond
July 13, 1998



Monday, July 13, 1998
Section: News
Page: A03
Shawn Masten

RICHMOND A Sea Scout Explorer troop, booted from its free Berkeley marina berth because of the group's policy barring gays and atheists, is hoping to resettle in Richmond.

At least one member of the City Council thinks it's a good idea, but it's questionable how much support he'll get.

The city staff apparently is not keen on the idea and neither are some council members.

"The city can ill-afford the scrutiny and negative press that could result if this Berkeley' dispute and debate regarding certain discriminatory practices of the Sea Scouts shifts to Richmond," Assistant City Manager Leveron Bryant wrote in a June 19 memo to the council.

Revoke vote

The Berkeley City Council in May voted to revoke the free berths of Sea Scout ships Northland and Farallon. The vote came after a two-month battle over the Scouts' policy and a Berkeley law that requires organizations receiving free city services to embrace nondiscrimination.

Councilman Tom Butt, who wants the Northland to have a free berth at the Richmond marina, said Berkeley was unnecessarily punitive.

"These are tremendous programs for kids," he said. "I don't agree with the national policy; I will continue to do what I can to change it. But until that happens I'm not going to kiss off the program."

The Northland's 20-member crew consists of youths from Berkeley, El Cerrito, Richmond and Albany. The move to Richmond would be an easy transition because many of the kids on the boat already live there, said Bryan Sheridan, a parent volunteer whose son is on the ship's crew.

"It's a program that provides a lot of good services for just about everybody but especially for under-privileged kids."

The Northland could have paid $400 a month to stay in Berkeley, but that would have required them to raise annual membership fees. The present $7 fee keeps the program open to low-income teen-agers and minorities, Sheridan said.

Richmond officials aren't just leery of potential controversy.

Councilwoman Donna Powers noted the giveaway would violate a recently approved council policy of charging for the use of all city facilities.

"If you make an exception for the Sea Scouts, then when any other group in town wants to use something for free, they're going to throw it up in our face," she said.

Much-needed revenue

But others argue that a free berth would mean a loss of much-needed revenue at the marina, which is nearly half empty and loses about $700,000 annually. The Sea Scouts already have two free berths at the marina and are asking for another for the sailing ship Ariel.

"I have nothing against the Sea Scouts," said Mayor Rosemary Corbin. "I just don't think we have to be the only marina in the area giving them free berths."

"We can't afford to subsidize four Sea Scout groups in the area," Powers said. "Why should we take on what everyone else refuses to do."

City staff also believe the 73-foot boat is too big for any of the vacant berths at the marina. They recommended that the Sea Scouts fill out an application and wait for an appropriate berth.

Despite her concerns about the city subsidizing the Sea Scouts, Powers said she can't abide scouting's discriminatory policy, which bars homosexuals and atheists from being members of any program run by the Boy Scouts.

Rock and a hard place'

"I know that they're caught between a rock and a hard place; they don't have anything to do with the national policy. But personally, I think it's offensive that they discriminate I have gay friends. I have a gay cousin who died of HIV. I know how hard it can be to be treated differently."

Despite the national policy, the Northland has its own non-discrimination policy that allows it to actively recruit members without regard to sexual orientation or religious preferences.

"The kids have been heard loud and clear saying that they don't support discrimination against gays or atheists. And also the adult leadership has strong personal beliefs on that score," Sheridan said.

Richmond resident Chris Tallerico was so upset after reading about Berkeley booting the Sea Scouts that he showed up at a Richmond council meeting to encourage the city to give them a home.

"I went through Boy Scouts and I went through the Explorer program and I had a great time with it. I think all kids ought to take part."

He said the local group shouldn't be penalized by the national policy.

"I would not as a straight person go to the City Council in San Francisco and have them kick the gay clubs out just because I don't like their ideas."

In exchange for waiving the monthly rental fee, about $355, Richmond would receive invaluable services from the Sea Scouts, Butt said.

"This is a terrific opportunity to get more scouting programs into Richmond," he said.

The Sea Scouts, formerly the Sea Explorers, provides training in seamanship, navigation, large boat handling and other nautical skills.

Butt suggests the city accommodate the Sea Scouts with three conditions:

* The city could terminate the lease for any reason with a 30-day notice if the unit engages in discrimination.

* The Sea Scout unit would be required to actively recruit and include a significant number of ethnically diverse Richmond residents, with a goal of 50 percent Richmond youth participation. About 35 percent of the Northland's crew is currently from Richmond.

* The unit would sign a standard marina lease agreement, which includes an anti-discrimination clause.

Councilman Nat Bates said he plans to support Butt's recommendation, which is scheduled to be considered by the council at its July 14 meeting.

"It's an activity that volunteers are putting together," Bates said. "There's no city staff involved. There's no city money involved."