Active: Federal lawsuit filed to protect Daniel’s home and property

Daniel Knight called Richardson Bay—in Marin County, California—home since he first dropped anchor there in 1999. For the 65-year-old retired truck driver with a fixed income, several medical problems, and no nearby family, boats have served as the only affordable form of housing.  

 Daniel lived on a fully operational, 35-foot sailboat, complete with electricity, a hot water system and shower, and working engine and sail systems. Daniel had the good fortune of timing when he bought the vessel—the former owner had to move to Alaska and sold the boat to Daniel for a steeply discounted price of $6,000.  

The boat is where he lived, slept, and conducted personal business.  His was among dozens of floating homes anchored in Richardson Bay.   

Nevertheless, a local government agency called the Richardson Bay Regional Agency (RBRA) believes vessels like Daniel’s harm the eel grass that lines the bay floor. The agency, working in agreement with the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, set out to rid the bay of all such boats by 2026.  

To carry out this effort, the RBRA created a buy-out program to entice boaters to sell their vessels to the agency for $150 per foot so the agency can dispose of the boats. But there’s a catch: Boat owners forfeit all of the buyback money if they wind up homeless within Marin County.  

Daniel rejected the buyout because his boat was the only place he could afford to live, and its disposal would indeed have left him homeless. Plus, the buyback program would have paid only around $5,000 for the boat—far less than what it’s worth, especially because it doubled as his home.  

Determined to oust Daniel’s boat from the bay, the RBRA turned to a backup plan whereby the agency declares that boats are “marine debris” so the agency itself can seize and dispose of boats—without paying for them.   

Sure enough, on October 14, 2022, the agency posted a notice on Daniel’s boat stating that his boat is marine debris and would be disposed of within ten days unless he left the bay and took his boat with him.  

Under California law, however, marine debris applies only to boats that are neither seaworthy nor reasonably fit for transportation. Daniel’s boat is completely operable and regularly used. By definition, it’s seaworthy, not marine debris.  

Either way, the notice did not provide any opportunity for a hearing. Nor did it guarantee compensation. Daniel’s boat is protected private property, no matter where it’s anchored or if the government claims he’s violating a law. The government cannot just take property it doesn’t like without announcing its intentions and giving the property owner a chance to fight the taking.  

Worse, giving Daniel only ten days to move his boat and all his belongings is unfair and unjust. Even rental tenants in California are allowed at least 60 days to move out of a leased unit.  

The RBRA’s order asserting Daniel’s boat is marine debris and the impossibly short time span of ten days to comply blatantly violated his property rights and due process protections. 

Represented at no charge by Pacific Legal Foundation, Daniel reached a settlement agreement with RBRA, the terms of which are confidential.  

What’s At Stake?

  • The government cannot just take property it doesn’t like without offering just compensation. Even if that home is a boat, it is private property and protected by the Constitution. The government must engage in fair and constitutional processes and pay compensation if it wishes to take the home.

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