“What you’re doing is not right, you know it’s not right,” Robbie Powelson says to Officer Steve in his video, as Steve tries to get him to help pass out eviction notices to the people camped out next to the bay in Sausalito, CA. That was Friday, June 25th, 2021.
Residents of Rainbow Bay, also known as Camp Cormorant, have until Tuesday, June 29th, to move out or they will be forcibly moved by the police and heavy equipment. Many of the residents have made it clear they aren’t moving, and are planning a counter-event for the same day. It's a case of a bunch of free-living senior citizen sailors and hippies against the wealthy elite(ironically also mostly senior citizens) and city officials who disapprove of them, with the police who do their bidding, in one of America’s most exclusive cities. This is a battle that has been going on here for a long time, back to the Coast Miwoks who went extinct from the land-hungry settlers in the 1800s.
“If you don't want me in your yard, give me the house I paid for 50 years. I’m willing to go to jail,” says Riley, a feisty resident who threatened to camp out in front of the mayor’s house if she is forcibly removed from her home at the camp. “I’ll die for this cause,” she adds.
Right off the main road in Sausalito next to Dunphy Park is a place people have camped at for decades. Most of the current residents are retirement age, some with physical disabilities that limit their mobility, a few with mental health issues that have nowhere else to go and can’t afford treatment.
When the chief of police showed up on February 16th, 2021, to demand all residents leave the same day, the court granted a temporary restraining order against the city of Sausalito per CDC guidelines on Covid-19.
The CDC’s Covid-19 restrictions ended in California on June 15th and now the City of Sausalito is in a rush to get its unhoused residents moved out of sight of the tourists, the yacht harbors(aka boat jails), and the multimillion-dollar homes covering the hill and looking down on the camp. Sausalito’s average house costs $1,560,999, up 10.4% since last year, according to Zillow Home Value Index, half a million more than the Bay Area average.
Officer Steve said the camp needs to be moved because there is a large potentially toxic dirt pile next to it that the City scraped off of neighboring Dunphy Park a few years ago and left under plastic sheets. All of a sudden the City is ready to move the dirt, rumored to have lead contamination from shipbuilding but never tested; however there is a large empty lot on the other side of the pile, and this was never a reason given before. According to the residents, work stopped on the site because of the discovery of ancient native artifacts.
“This is holy ground, and it's because of a [Miwok] skull... Native American bones” were found here, said Daniel Eggink, the 90-year-old founder of what is more an organized village than a homeless encampment.
“This is what’s called a shell mound, where the Indians would come and have their festivals and get together and they would eat the clams and oysters and throw them on a pile...like ten thousand years of shells,” said Daniel’s daughter Jewel who showed us the shells under the camp, a visible layer on the way down to the rocky beach where small watercraft are parked. The original Miwoks were peaceful and at peace with their environment just like the current campers, living in harmony until disrupted by hostile authorities, with the entire population of Miwoks exterminated or displaced in less than a generation, about 150 years ago.
“What we did at Standing Rock is what I'm doing here… this is not actually a community space, this is a family space, it's a family space for everybody with a belly button,” added Daniel.
Camp Cormorant is a magical place overlooking the bay with a community kitchen & living room and trails through fennel and palm trees down to the beach. There are two portapotties and a handwashing station serviced every week; there is garbage service and the paths are kept clean by the residents. People bring food or cook every day and leave it on communal tables; everyone shares and can take as much as they want. Numerous rainbow flags flap in the wind with the camp symbol on them, the cormorant. There are frequent sessions of live music as everyone grabs an instrument or sings or keeps the beat and movies in the evenings with a portable projector on a whiteboard. When I was there we watched Total Recall and Waterworld, a favorite of the Anchorouts.
“First they dispossess people on the anchorage, then they corral them into an internment camp. It’s inhumane and it’s wrong,” Robbie also said, who is an activist that works with camps across Marin County.
Many of the residents in the camp used to live on their boats, and are called Anchorouts, but the county of Marin and the BCDC (Bay Conservation and Development Commission) as well as the RBRA (Richardson’s Bay Regional Agency) have been waging a campaign to destroy all of the boats of anyone living free on the water. About half have been destroyed since the new harbormaster took over. The Anchorouts who still have a boat also depend on the camp, as do many others. The City wants to move them somewhere without access to their boats and likely without their community kitchen and living room and tiny homes or the fresh breeze of the Bay; a lower spot on the marshy ground with cages residents are supposed to pack up all of their belongings into every morning that provides no protection from the frequent rain.
“He picks his disciples from the lowest of the low, the fishermen, with the highest mortality rate, rough tough fishermen...Jesus was homeless,” said Peter Romanowsky, but “Trap after trap after trap to destroy the last most famous free anchorage in the world...their goal is to 100% sterilize the Bay.” Peter is a priest and Anchorout with a long white beard and black Orthodox robe who ministers across the street from City Hall from noon to midnight every Sunday. Daniel, Peter, and Jeff Jacob Chase frequently get into philosophical debates.
“We are meant to go towards holiness, but it's asking a lot...but I've seen miracles in this camp, and it really does happen,” said Jeff, a grey-bearded Anchorout Rabbi, at a meeting a few days ago about the eviction notices.
“I’m proud of what we've done here so far, people putting their energy into helping each other,” Jeff added. But the city wants to move residents next to the Army Corps of Engineers facility- “Right next to where they crush the boats,” which is “Psychologically as well as physically damaging from the fiberglass [dust].”
Just a few weeks ago Jeff and Robbie saved a boat that was the home of a whole family by boarding it while it was pulled up to the army corps facility, despite the threat of trespassing charges.
The authorities are supposed to give a certain amount of notice after they seize a boat for the owners to retrieve it before it is destroyed, however, “They are picking and choosing what laws to enforce, as it's convenient for them to serve their privatization of public waters agenda,” says Arthur Bruce, an Anchorout in the Bay for five or six years.
“The harbormaster watches to see when we come and go, they're not takin’ anyone's boat when they're at home, they can't. They are officially some kinda self-ordained public servant but not by the taxpayers, by a group of city supervisors. They actually steal a boat and drag it up on the ramp and take a backhoe and crush the bow off of it and the harbormaster actually admitted… he was questioned, why do you immediately destroy people’s vessels without due process, and the harbormaster said in front of the public eye, we do that because if we don't immediately destroy them people tend to come to take their homes back…They've given these guys a false sense of authority to serve a NIMBY, elitist privatization of public waters and...they’ll pay him $90-100 an hour to do it...so yeah he got his 30 pieces of silver.”
The authorities are specifically targeting people that live on their boats. The boats are their homes. The authorities destroy those homes with all of the residents’ possessions onboard. They are basically making people homeless on purpose, and then the city has a problem when their only alternative is to live in a camp on the land.
“Harbormaster is a term he's not dignified to have, I gotta point that out, his name is Curtis Havel,” Adds Arthur. Havel, Richardson’s Bay Regional Agency harbormaster, has been videoed cutting off the anchor line right at the deck of boats he seizes, leaving it to drift under the water which can be only 4 ft at low tide and any boat going by can catch it in their propeller, as well as putting dozens of holes in the hulls of Anchorout boats he captures.
All of these menacing, overpaid authorities have nothing better to do than relentlessly target a small, vibrant, and self-sufficient community of unhoused elders. If they are displaced again and lose their belongings again, where is the justice in that? A citizen without a house is just as much a citizen as one with a house, yet they are treated quite differently. Property and wealth make our society and our authorities value some over others, authorities who literally work to sustain the stuff and the feelings of the rich over the lives of the poor. Would Officer Steve throw his grandma or mother out of her home onto the street, because of the ruling of the council or because her wealthier neighbors think she is an eyesore next to their expensive boats?
What our unhoused neighbors need is our compassion and understanding, not sweeps and discrimination. There is a dire threat to Camp Cormorant/Rainbow Bay, and if the authorities get their way its fate is sealed. That’s why it is all hands on deck for anyone who supports equality and justice.