The Water Wars

Protestors demonstrate before Sheriff’s deputies  |  Photo by Catherine Lyons-Labate  |  post by Catherine and Larry Clinton

Catherine Lyons-Labate has created a 209-page hard cover photo essay featuring hundreds of her photographs, as well as recollections by her and others who lived or worked on the Sausalito waterfront in the late 1970s. The book, Once Upon A Waterfront, tells the stories of many colorful Co-Op characters, and of some of the memorable events that marked their lives, including legal battles that consumed so much time and energy.

Today, Catherine lives on A Dock with her husband, Floating Homes Association President Michael Labate. Here’s a lightly edited excerpt from her timeline of that tumultuous era:

Years ago, the Gates Cooperative was invited by Waldo Point Harbor to meet along with the Floating Homes Association to discuss the future build-out of the new Marina at Waldo Point Harbor. We met every month for several years to discuss the layout, infrastructure, what would be included, and how to have the least impact on the community. The houseboat dwellers needed a unified front, as the Co-op and the FHA had to work together.

Any group that gets together trying to accomplish something should strive to have a “mother hen” who keeps everyone going forward towards the same goal. We were lucky to have Pam Bousquet as our mother hen. She worked tirelessly to keep all of us on track and on point.

This chapter is dedicated to Pam Bousquet.

Prolonged Uncertainty

This chapter is for that unique audience that thrives on detail, those who spent time living through 30 years of prolonged uncertainty pertaining to negotiations and the sequence of events that resulted in the inclusion of a neighborhood known as the Gates Cooperative, Gate 6, Waldo Point into the greater legal Waterfront community. This neighborhood is my point of refer­ence during my tenure on the Waterfront. I was here as an original signatory of legal agreements and a member of the Gates Negotiating Team from 1979­-2008, and am an ongoing resident to this day.

Legal History

February 14, 1977. Eviction notices were being served to individuals: Phil Frank on the Ameer, Larry Moyer on the Becky Thatcher, and Doyle Nance (and myself) on the Issaquah. Apparently, not everyone was to be given a berth in the new harbor.

April 5, 1977. To address the threats of eviction, the Waterfront Preservation Association (WPA) was formed and headed by Piro Caro. WPA filed a petition in Superior Court and obtained a temporary stop work order.

April 7, 1977. Snake Theatre kicked into high gear, creating massive puppets to artistically confront the developers’ building of Waldo Point Harbor without the inclusion of many of our community members.

Community newspaper Garlic Press was launched, becoming the sounding board and primary communication about the legal battles that would ensue.

The Dream Journal by John Van Daam became a channel for sharing collective subconscious under threat.

June 14, 1977. The Snake Theatre troupe unveiled their ingenious “Cardboard People” to cre­atively protest the bulldozing of the freshwater creek behind Waldo Works. This was followed by a vigil over the ditch.

June 25, 1977. State Housing Commission meeting; September through November was spent in Court. WPA legal battles were unsuccessful in staving off the inevitable.

The Water Wars had begun. It was clear that negotiations would be useless if the harbor was built before the community inclusion issue was resolved.

October 31, 1977. The Red Barge moved in off Gate 5 at midnight, which blocked the pile driver. “Midnight TRO” (Temporary Restraining Order) was painted on its side. The barge stayed for years and became a place to play music, but it was only reach­able by skiff.

The Isle of Contempt moved in near the Red Barge. Water dwellers tied their homes there and it became the hub of a floating neighborhood. A new, more specific strategy had to be implemented for each of the individual neighborhoods.

Bob’s Boatyard in the area of Napa Street was under attack simultaneously. Heavy machinery came early in the morning without permits and began tearing down the warehouse with people inside sleeping. This is when Bob’s Boatyard became an organized Co-op as Gate 6 had been forced to do, incorporating in 1980 as Galilee Harbor.

December 12, 1977. To begin building D Dock (now Liberty Dock), Coast Guard boats full of cops arrived to escort the pile driver into the heart of Gate 5.

August 3, 1979. The Gates Cooperative, Gate 6, became incorporated as a California Non-Profit Mutual Benefit Corporation.

September 5, 1979. Aboard the Becky Thatcher houseboat, a meeting was held amidst a potential riot. In attendance were members of our Gates Cooperative Negotiating Team: Lou Cook of Waldo Point Harbor, Sheriff Al Howenstein, and Marin County Supervisor Dennis Rice. It was here that the September 5th Agreement was put in effect. It was the beginning of peaceful negotiations for the Gates Cooperative.

Even while recounting these tumultuous times, Catherine calls her opus “a loving waterfront book.” Back in 2008, during the early days of this project, her  photography mentor and waterfront habitué Pirkle Jones said: “With an insider’s perspective as a resident of the waterfront for over 35 years, Catherine’s gelatin silver prints portray the lifestyle, culture and composition of this vibrant community today. I envision this work as an important part of the rich history of Sausalito and Marin County.”

Catherine’s book will be for sale at Sausalito Books by the Bay where a book signing is scheduled for Sunday July 18 at 2:00 p.m. She’ll conduct a drop-by book signing on Sunday afternoon, June 20 in the new Waldo Point Park with music performed by Angus Martin. Or the book can be ordered directly from