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Boater is asked to leave Turning Basin

Published: Friday, January 4, 2013 at 9:12 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 4, 2013 at 9:12 a.m.

Jim Proctor, a 64-year-old man in ailing health, has been living on his broken-down boat in Petaluma waterways for the past 10 years. His vessel, though fairly clean, has no running engine. Bright blue tarps secured by an assortment of clamps and ropes enclose the open portion of the boat's deck, which has rusty engine parts strewn about its worn wooden planks. Attached to the back of Proctor's boat is a small dinghy filled with blankets and other household items.

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Jim Proctor has lived on a boat in Petaluma waterways for the past 10 years.

Janelle Wetzstein/Argus-Courier Staff

Proctor pays the city monthly rent to dock his boat at the Turning Basin, but has never been granted permission to live full-time onboard his vessel. Despite the lack of city approval, Proctor managed to reside in the marina for seven years and the Turning Basin for the past three.

But a recent effort to clean up the Petaluma Marina and Turning Basin has prompted city staff to move forward with evicting people living on their boats in both locations without city approval, including Proctor.

“It's tragic, in a way,” said City Public Works Director Dan St. John. “Over the months, Proctor's tidied his boat up. But we have a waterways ordinance that specifically says we do not allow liveaboards in the Turning Basin, except for unique circumstances where they have written consent.”

But for Proctor, who has multiple health conditions — including a persistent staph infection in his leg, pneumonia, and several other ailments — getting his boat in working condition so that he can leave the Turning Basin is only half of his problem. The other half is leaving his doctors in the middle of an ongoing medical care regimen.

“Proctor is in no condition to move at this time,” said Dr. Mark Northfield in a statement dated Dec. 12, 2012. Northfield is an orthopedic surgeon whose office is located in Petaluma. He has been treating Proctor for his staph infection and plans to perform a knee replacement and prescribe subsequent physical therapy for Proctor once his infection has healed. “It would be helpful to have him in close proximity to POST (Wellness) Physical Therapy on Weller Street, since he lives alone,” Northfield added.

But both the city and Petaluma Police point out that allowing Proctor to stay until his illnesses and injuries have healed presents problems. According to St. John, the main reason for not allowing liveaboards in the Turning Basin is the lack of restroom facilities.

“If you're living onboard your vessel in the marina, you have access to a shower and full facilities,” St. John said. “But we don't have those at the Turning Basin.”

St. John added that Petaluma regulations require any boat in the marina or the Turning Basin be operational. “These waterways aren't supposed to be places where you bring broken-down boats to live on,” he said. “The boat needs to be in seaworthy shape. Most boats at the marina are not eyesores, they do not have mold growing on them and they do not have a disassembled transmission on them.”

But Proctor, who has spent the last decade docked to Petaluma's shores, can't understand why the city has finally decided to enforce a code which they have ignored for the past 10 years. “I just want to get my surgery, get my boat up and running and then move on,” he said. “I don't understand why after 10 years of paying my city rent on time, they won't just grant me that.”

Proctor isn't alone in his thinking. Dave Koot, a local pastor who legally moors his boat in the Turning Basin and who has known Proctor for two years, said that he just wants to see Proctor follow his doctor's orders.

“My heart goes out to him,” Koot said. “I understand the city is trying to clean things up around here, but my concern is that Jim (Proctor) is not healthy. Whatever his doctor thinks is best, I would agree with.”

Koot also pointed out that having someone in the Turning Basin can be helpful. Recently, the city placed both the Turning Basin and the marina under the control of Petaluma's harbormaster. The harbormaster is stationed at the marina, and Koot said he only comes to check on the basin twice a day.

“My boat got loose two weeks ago at about 2 in the morning, even though I had anchored it properly, and Jim (Proctor), stopped it from floating into the bridge,” said Koot.

While the city remains sympathetic to Proctor's issues, St. John said that Proctor has had ample time to leave Petaluma's waterways. In August, the city sent a notice to Proctor telling him he had 30 days until he was formally evicted from the Turning Basin, St. John said. Then, 30 days later, the city sent another notice to Proctor telling him he had been officially evicted and that he had 60 days to vacate.

“The day he was supposed to be gone, there was no evidence that he had even begun the process of preparing his boat for departure,” said St. John. “So for three months, there was no evidence he had taken our directives seriously.”

Proctor maintains that he hasn't left because he can't afford the engine parts necessary to fix his boat. And since Proctor has been unable to leave, he has begun racking up city fines to the tune of more than $1,000. Petaluma Police Sgt. Ralph Evans said that the police department has to enforce city regulations.

“If we didn't follow the city ordinances, then how many more boats like Mr. Proctor's would be docked illegally?” asked Evans.

St. John said he would be willing to try to help Proctor with his fines — as soon as Proctor actually leaves the basin. “We have tried to be as compassionate about this as we possibly can,” said St. John. “At the moment he has departed, I will go to bat for him with his fines.”

Meanwhile, Proctor says that after his staph infection heals and he is able to have his knee replacement surgery, he will leave. He has already had a mechanic working on his boat's engine, and hopes to depart for San Rafael sometime in the early Spring.

(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at janelle.wetzstein@arguscourier.com)

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