Under a new agreement between two agencies overseeing Richardson’s Bay in southern Marin County, only seaworthy vessels will be allowed to anchor on a temporary basis in the bay after October 2026 to preserve the area’s sensitive ecology.
Both the RBRA Board of Directors and the Bay Conservation & Development Commission (BCDC) have approved a settlement agreement that establishes milestones that RBRA must meet over the next five years as well as provisions for eelgrass recovery and protection actions. In return, BCDC will refrain from threatened enforcement action against RBRA and will support RBRA’s efforts.
The RBRA’s enforcement focus will be to ensure that new vessels are prevented from taking up unauthorized anchorage in Richardson’s Bay so that the Marin County Department of Health and Human Services and community partners can focus on supporting residents already on the anchorage to transition from unsafe conditions on the water to land-based housing options or marina slips.
“The RBRA will support efforts to connect people living on vessels with housing alternatives and services, as we are mindful of the challenges that face vulnerable members of this community,” said RBRA Board President and District 3 Marin County Supervisor Stephanie Moulton-Peters.
“The next five years of such a significant change in the bay will not be easy on the agency or those affected by its requirements. But this settlement agreement includes as much flexibility as was possible in negotiation with the state regulatory agency while considering what is best for vessel occupants in the context of solutions to homelessness and housing challenges faced statewide,” said Moulton-Peters.
BCDC has sought firm actions to address illegally anchored vessels and protection of habitat conditions. The RBRA adopted rules and regulations in 1987 that, in part, established 72-hour time limits for anchoring in the bay. For decades, mariners have anchored vessels in the bay for extended stays that were, and remain, inconsistent with the San Francisco Bay Plan, the Richardson Bay Special Area Plan, the Marin County Code, and the RBRA’s rules and regulations.
RBRA has endeavored to balance the call for stricter timelines on enforcement with a humane approach toward vulnerable residents on the water, especially in light of housing challenges and homelessness regionally and statewide.
The RBRA adopted a 2020 Transition Plan to improve the health, safety, and management of the bay through enforcement of requirements for anchored vessels, housing relocation support, and eelgrass protection and growth. Although BCDC viewed the Transition Plan and its implementation as a good first step, it has called for more definitive timelines to be established, including the removal of all vessels within five years.
With formal BCDC approval of the settlement agreement, staff will now turn toward updating the Transition Plan to incorporate the requirements of the agreement as well as efforts to coordinate with partners on potential housing and social services options.
The new agreement includes a timeline for phased removal of the remaining 86 vessels from RBRA waters. The number of vessels on the water has been reduced by more than half over the past two years. The settlement agreement includes establishment of an Eelgrass Protection Zone that prohibits anchoring in shallower areas attractive to eelgrass and to initiate eelgrass recovery efforts through the adoption and implementation of an Adaptive Management Plan. The commitments are expected to be resourced largely through grant funding.