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November 2000

Sausalito Cruising Club Faces Big Trouble

By Carol Sterritt

Due to my campaign for office as a Councilmember in Sausalito, many of the words in this article come to me from Diane Chute. She is Commodore of the Cruising Club, an institution that has historical, cultural, and social value for this once-seafaring town. This article is her story, and that of her much-loved Cruising Club.

On September 12th of this year, Sausalito's City Council held a public hearing to air all pertinent issues and controversies currently surrounding the Cruising Club. Although this WW II ammunition barge has sat at its present Dunphy Park location since 1960, its berth location is now under attack, due to inferences that some read into a 1970 City of Sausalito bond measure.

The Club is an all volunteer yacht club, has always been and is especially attractive to new sailors, senior citizens on a fixed income and those who cannot afford to belong to the other more expensive Bay yacht clubs. The initiation fee is an incredibly low $ 150. Annual dues are $ 200.

The barge has been an ideal meeting place for many organizations. Groups as diverse as Alcoholics Anonymous, Sausalito Tallships' Society, Mill Valley Lions' Club, and The Rotary Club have enjoyed the use of the facilities for their meetings. As it straddles the seaward end of Dunphy Park, with a gorgeous view of The Richardson Bay and Belvedere, it seems serenely above the current furor surrounding it. Only the patches of plywood marking out areas where it sustained wind damage indicate a frailty almost human.

People have married inside its walls; there have been birthday parties, and graduation celebrations as well as wakes. Since 1948 this barge has seen a city's happiest and saddest moments. To many people it is almost a second home. And to them, it seems a slap in the face that The Cruising Club should be threatened with a ride out of town (or worse, perhaps, a ride out to sea).

Here's the rub: in 1970 a City of Sausalito bond measure was written. Those framing this document were attempting to achieve what they saw as being nigh close to impossible: getting the citizens to incur a $ 560,000 to acquire the land that is now Dunphy Park "for a library, city hall and waterfront park consisting of open land and open water." Now the document's chief framer admits that the wording at this point was basically quite contrived. The land in question was at that time rather unsightly and sometimes used as a dump. Sausalito's land values were still those of a rural community, and no one at that point in time knew how valuable the Dunphy Park site would be even a single decade later.

So in authoring those words, concepts were floated that may or may not have meant that much to those hoping for the park. They didn't really care whether the Cruising Club rested within the Park perimeters (were there to be a park). They were simply trying to entice the voters into having enough imagination and vision that they would accept paying off the steep price of a bond in exchange for having a park.

However, in the familiar way that rash promises have of popping up eras later, it came to pass that in the year 2000 two things happened affecting the Cruising Club's location status: the City of Sausalito began the process of reviewing leases as a matter of determining proper valuation. Additionally, the City of Sausalito also looked into the past history of The Cruising Club, where lo and behold, it found this 1970 bond issue's written statement. City Attorney's often take such written statements in a literal manner, and so its position inside Dunphy Park became an issue. Furthermore, The Cruising Club holds no actual lease with the City; it rents month to month. Also The Club pays less than $ 4,000 each year in rent. Things were not looking up.

Adding further insult to injury, The Cruising Club had sustained serious storm damage during the 1999-00 winter. A building inspector did a walkthrough in January 2000 and determined that The Club was out of compliance with the American Disabilities Act, perhaps lacking in safe accessibility, as well as posing concerns of fire safety, etc.

All this caused the City to red-tag the structure. At this point it was no longer possible for The Cruising Club to hold those functions that had helped in paying its rent. And as I type this, money has never before been so important to The Cruising Club. Although there are insurance funds for the repairs and the building code updates, and for the loss of income, there is also a most serious "Catch 22": the Club must replace two "dolphins", which repair requires BCDC approval and the application must be signed by the legal landlord, i.e., the City of Sausalito. Also, The Club must secure building permits in order to proceed with the repairs. This cannot happen as long as eviction notices are pending.

The Cruising Club has secured the services of Sausalito architect, Michael Rex. And has selected a general contractor and structural engineering firm, RPB Construction. The Club is also relying on a financial and time commitment from its membership (currently 38 active members).

Without this wonderful barge, the port of Sausalito will lose some of its few remaining ties to the seafaring community at large. Over the past decades, The Club has hosted the "Pride of Baltimore", "The Pilgrim" and the "Californian" all youth training ships that have entered our port. The crew/students used the Club's showers and rest room facilities, and enjoyed the "get acquainted" parties that were thrown in their honor. At the time of the Soviet Union's demise, Russian sailors who were stranded in California ended up staying at The Club until funding arrived for them to return to Russia.

Of less historical importance, but again with connections to the seafarers of the world, The Cruising Club has always provided a place where incoming boats may come and dock. People attending the Sept. 12th meeting spoke of how when they sail to ports of call thousands of miles from the Bay Area, they will mention The Cruising Club, and foreigners will pipe in with a remembered experience of their own. Thus The Club is a Goodwill Ambassador to The World. It is one of the few remaining links between what Sausalito once was, and what it is becoming today, a City of mansions and office parks.

People determined to help The Cruising Club can send their donations to "The Sausalito Cruising Club" PO Box 155, Sausalito, CA 94966. Telephone messages can be made at 415-332-9349 or direct phone 415 332-9922. Also, new memberships are greatly encouraged (and appreciated) at this critical time.

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