THE SEA OF ANARCHY
From the San Francisco Chronicle
NIGHT PATROLS FIGHT ANARCHY IN REDWOOD CITY'S WETLANDS
By John Woolfolk
Like marshals called to restore order in an Old West town, San
Mateo County deputy sheriffs are battling anarchy and neglect
in the bay sloughs east of Redwood City.
Before the deputies arrived, more than a decade had passed without
night patrols along these dun, winding waterways and withered marsh-
lands. And it showed.
Abandoned, crumbling vessels, many inhabited by transients and
resembling floating junkyards, line the shores and clog the channels.
Boats and jet skis zip along the marina waterways, too often piloted
by drunks and others oblivious to the rules of the nautical road,
deputies say. Near-collisions are common. Wakes from speeding
boats regularly rock yachts moored in the harbor.
When a 17-foot Boston Whaler was seized in a drug bust, the Sheriff's
Department saw and opportunity to curb the lawlessness and converted
the craft into a patrol boat in 1990. Although limited day runs began
soon after, night patrols did not begin until this June. Deputies
discovered the darkened wetlands were a sea of anarchy.
"When we first went out there, I couldn't believe it," said sheriff's
Deputy Mike McVay, who is in charge of bay patrols.
After sunset, boaters venture into the darkened sloughs, often in
unregistered vessels without lights or life jackets on board. Apart
from the obvious safety concerns, sheriff's officials believe that
some of these boaters are involved in illegal drug activities.
The patrols have been busy. In June, on their first night patrol,
deputies arrested a man in an inflatable boat without lights carrying
seven marijuana plants toward the uninhabited marshlands. Deputies
also have arrested two drunken boaters and helped clean up an oil
slick from an abandoned 85-foot fishing trawler that sank in a channel.
On one three-hour evening excursion last month, deputies towed two
men stranded in a speedboat, warned a sailor whose registration had
expired nine years ago, stopped a large motorboat as it sped out of
the marina at twice the speed limit and helped rescue a 17-year old
paraplegic boy who got lost in the sloughs in his kayak.
"There should be people out there patrolling," said Nancy Clokke, who
lives on a boat at Pete's Harbor. "There's definitely a need."
Once marina residents noticed that deputies were patrolling the bay,
complaints of boat thefts, late night activity, drinking and speeding
began pouring in, said sheriff's Lieutenant Terry Mackey.
Not everyone has welcomed the return of the law. Two weeks ago,
vandals kicked in the doors of a sheriff's patrol car and the pickup
truck used to haul the patrol boat, McVay said.
So far, the bay patrols have been operating almost entirely on a
volunteer basis at little or no cost to the county. All but two of
the 24 members of the sheriff's marine unit, which also includes a
35-foot boat that patrols the ocean, are reserve officers.
Using reserve deputies has made the program cost-effective, said
Sheriff Don Horsley.
"I'd like to look at what our mission is out there," Horsley said.
"I do think we have a place when it comes to search-and-rescue and
safety issues. And if we could play a part in cleaning up the
environment, that would be a very positive role for us."
The San Mateo County Sheriff's Department, which has patrolled as
far north as Coyote Point in San Mateo, is the only law enforcement
agency regularly cruising the bay coast along the Peninsula, Mackey
said. The Coast Guard seldom ventures south of the San Mateo Bridge,
except in emergencies, he said.
The mere presence of the sheriff's patrol is enough to eliminate some
problems. Speeding boaters instantly slow down when they see the
patrol boat with its blue flashing light mounted above the console.
Violations often stem from ignorance of the law, and first-time
offenders are typically handed a book on the "ABCs of Boating
Regulations and Laws" instead of citations, McVay said.
Abandoned boats are another matter. Many have no identification
numbers to help police locate their owners, and when found, the
owners often ignore requests to remove them.
Other vessels, inhabited by transients, lack proper sanitation
facilities, allowing raw sewage to seep into the mouth of Redwood
Creek, McVay said.
Jurisdictional questions complicate attempts to clean up the mess,
McVay said. The Sheriff's Department is working with the Coast
Guard and state Department of Fish and Game to remove the abandoned
"It's a fiasco as to who is responsible fort taking them out of here,"
McVay said. "They're a pollution hazard and a threat to the
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