Sunday, June 5, 2022

A turf war on the water in "anchored out"

The documentary, directed by Katie Bernstein and Clara Mokri, follows San Francisco's vibrant liveaboards as their boats are targeted by a wealthy community who want them gone—revealing the dark underbelly of class conflict in California.
From The New Yorker by Douglas Watson

“It’s all about money, guns, and lawyers,” Joe Tate, who lives on a houseboat docked in Sausalito, near the entrance to the bay, says of the feud.

Katie Bernstein and Clara Mokri’s new documentary, “Anchored Out,” centers on a community of dozens of people who live on boats anchored in Richardson Bay, a shallow estuary rimmed by the well-to-do Marin County, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco.
The “anchor-outs,” as they are known, are a motley crew—free spirits, artists, literal drifters, refugees from the high cost of living on land.
Richardson Bay has long been a hub for the Bay Area’s bohemian and arts scenes; it was here that Otis Redding, during a stay on a friend’s houseboat, wrote the first verse of “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” Today, the anchor-outs’ existence on the water faces a threat.
Under pressure from the state, the Richardson Bay Regional Agency (R.B.R.A.), which serves parts of Marin County, has hired a series of harbormasters to enforce a long-ignored rule defining the bay as a seventy-two-hour anchorage.
The anchor-outs must leave the bay or risk having their boats towed and, in some cases, destroyed.

“Money doesn’t talk, it swears,” Bob Dylan once sang, but in this tale of haves and have-nots it’s the latter who do most of the swearing.
In the film, the harbormaster Curtis Havel comes in for a fair bit of verbal abuse as he makes his rounds on the water to inform boaters of the seventy-two-hour rule.
“Don’t ever touch my shit again! Ever!” one irate anchor-out yells at him, bitterly complaining that Havel “stole” one of his boats.
“You’re a lousy person, man! .

I will have your ass in a sling!” Another anchor-out observes, of the harbormaster, “He does get screamed at quite a bit.”
This remark draws a chuckle from a third anchor-out, the sixtysomething Joe (Einstein) Bernstein, who features prominently in the film.
Einstein has a weathered face, a gap-toothed smile, and a tremendous head of omnidirectional white hair, which is perhaps the reason for his nickname.
He also has a philosophical bent.
“There are righteous people out here,” he says, of his community.
“They shouldn’t have to lose what they own.” At one point, Einstein sheds his usual genial, somewhat bemused demeanor to fire up his boat’s engine and chase after Havel, shouting, “Why don’t you take a hike, asshole? Who’re you gonna go bother next, some poor woman? Or how ’bout an old man?”

“I was actually surprised by how much conflict we witnessed first hand during our filming,” Katie Bernstein, who is not related to the anchor-out, told me over e-mail.
But society’s problems don’t stop at the water’s edge.
Mokri, Bernstein’s colleague, wrote, “The conflict in Richardson Bay IS the affordable housing crisis in the Bay Area.
The NIMBY-ism and way in which society treats people who are struggling just to keep a roof over their heads is an issue across the entire country.” Bernstein added, 
“The story brings up a lot of tensions and questions about who is allowed to exist where, and what a wealthy society like ours should provide for its citizens.
Is it access to clean water? Bathrooms? Safe housing? Or nothing if you can’t afford to pay for it? And what if a self-directed choice is dangerous to the person who chooses it?”
(Havel, the harbormaster, asserts in the film that “the large majority” of the anchor-outs’ boats “are inoperable and therefore unsafe vessels,” and that this is why they must be removed.
He quit his job shortly after the film was finished.)

“It’s all about money, guns, and lawyers,” Joe Tate, who lives on a houseboat docked in Sausalito, near the entrance to the bay, says in the film.
Tate, the son of a Mississippi River tugboat pilot, first came to Richardson Bay in 1967, and is a veteran of an earlier conflict there that in many ways foreshadowed the one playing out today: in the seventies, the R.B.R.A.
sought to remove some of the houseboats that had been set up in the area, and Tate and others pushed back, with some success.
Tate is sympathetic to the anchor-outs but not optimistic about their prospects.
“It’s just a matter of getting the pesky anchor-outs out of the way,” he tells the camera.
“You watch and see. They’re gonna get rid of all of them. They’re gonna put mooring balls out there.
And they’re gonna have millionaire boats tied up to ’em. That’s what’s coming.”
And that is how money swears.

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