Pete’s Harbor Overpays Rent; Judge Rejects Tenant TRO

Zennie Abraham / Zennie62
Zennie Abraham / Zennie62

Bair_Island_WatersThe Pete’s Harbor controversy’s heating up. Here’s the latest news on the dispute between the legendary harbor, its tenants, and the State of California.

More commentary will come, but these are the latest press releases:

Pete’s Harbor Overpays Rent to Comply with Unreasonable State Demand

Paula Uccelli, 70, forced by state to pay hundreds of thousands more than owed or face loss of harbor property

Ever since State Lands took their property 28 years ago and forced a leasehold on them under the threat of eviction, the owners of Pete’s Harbor have been asking the state how to pay their rent. Without ever receiving a single invoice or demand for payment, the owners made repeated calls, local state elected leaders made calls, and they even sent cashier’s checks to cover what they believed was owed.

So, after being ignored for nearly three decades, Pete’s Harbor owner Paula Uccelli was shocked in December to be told that she owed $409,253.24, or all 28 years’ of past rent, plus interest and penalties, or face default and the immediate loss of her lease.

Under severe pressure, Uccelli, 70, complied with the unreasonable State demand this week, paying hundreds of thousands more than owed to secure her longtime lease on the state-owned waters her husband purchased in the 1950s.

But the longstanding dispute between Uccelli and the State is not over. Uccelli plans to contest the State’s attempt to intimidate and coerce her into paying hundreds of thousands more than legally due.

“For 28 years, Paula and Pete made every effort to pay their rent on time,” said the Uccelli’s attorney, Ted Hannig. “Now, years later, it is wrong and disingenuous for the State Lands Commission to suddenly speak up and bully Paula, a 70-year-old widow, into paying far beyond her legal obligation by threatening to terminate her lease – or else. ”

Uccelli and her late-husband Pete Uccelli, the owners and operators of Pete’s Harbor in Redwood City, entered into a long-term lease agreement with the State of California 28 years ago to operate the outer waters adjacent to their harbor.

The 49-year lease, with an option to renew, followed decades of bitter legal battles over who owned the waterfront that Pete developed from swampland in the 1950s. When Pete began developing the land, the State initially determined in writing in 1956 that the entire Pete’s Harbor property, including the surrounding waterfront, was owned by Pete, a designation that led Pete to make significant improvements and build both an inner and outer harbor.

But in 1981 the state suddenly sued to seize the entire Pete’s Harbor property, including the Uccellis’ home, and surrounding waterway as state-owned land. Pete fought back with a countersuit, waging battle against the State’s Goliath. Two years later, after a groundswell of grassroots support joined forces to “Save Pete’s Harbor,” the Legislature approved a measure formerly deeding the property to Pete with the exception of the outer waterway, which was put on a long-term lease with the State starting on Jan. 1, 1984.

The Uccelli’s never received a single invoice, call or notice for the new payment. So, before sending their first rent check, the Uccelli’s sought to identify the specific location to send the checks and the name of the person responsible for receiving them to avoid future problems. Pete and Paula Uccelli both made numerous calls over several years to obtain the information, but they received no response. Pete then asked two elected public officials and employees of the state to also inquire. They too received no reply.

Frustrated by the State’s bureaucratic incompetence and lack of response, the Uccelli’s set up a State Lands bank account, where rent payments were deposited for 28 years. The Uccellis kept copious and diligent records of these payments.

With a possible sale of the Harbor looming, Paula Uccelli drove to Sacramento on September 18, 2012 with a checkbook in hand to personally settle the rent dispute. At the time, a State Lands representative told her they still did not know how much she owed.

Uccelli then decided to pay what she believed she owed, submitting a cashier’s check for $20,720 based on a California law that allows a landlord to only demand four years of back rent in a tenant dispute.

The state finally responded in November 2012, informing Uccelli that, despite the amount paid, she still owed $409,253.24, which included 28 years of rent plus interest and penalties. State Lands’ representatives then threatened to put Uccelli in default and terminate the lease under all circumstances unless she paid the full sum by Jan. 8, 2013. The state failed to acknowledge the amount already paid, including the cashier’s check Uccelli had provided, or give any evidence as to why Uccelli owed more than four years of rent under the law.

To prevent jeopardizing the lease, Uccelli was left with no choice but to pay the disputed sum – for now. Uccelli’s legal team plans to fight the State’s demands and seek reimbursement.

Uccelli intends to transfer the long-term lease it to Paul Powers’s company, Redwood City Harbor Communities, LLC, which is planning to convert the property into a residential and marina community, with public trails and other community benefits. This was the ultimate wish of the late Pete Uccelli, who built his harbor in the 1950s and later dreamed of transforming it into a peaceful home for many more families to enjoy.

Shortly before Pete Uccelli passed in 2005, he agreed to sell the inner harbor and 10.7-acre property to Powers, whom he deemed an honorable man with integrity and vision to serve as a caring steward of the land.

Hannig said the State’s attempt to strong-arm Paula Uccelli into paying hundreds of thousands more than legally owed is the latest example of the State’s attempts to bully the Uccellis.

“Pete Uccelli fought back against the State’s unfair treatment three decades ago,” Hannig said. “We’ll fight this time, too. I am confident that, once again, we have justice on our side.”

Judge Rejects Attempt by Tenants of Pete’s Harbor to Seek a Temporary Restraining Order

Harbor owner launches Petes-harbor.org to provide updates to public and resources to slip renters

Redwood City, Calif. – San Mateo County Court Judge George A. Miram today rejected the attempts of the few remaining tenants’ efforts to seek a temporary restraining order from eviction on Jan. 15, 2013.

Judge Miram found the attempt to seek court intervention to be unwarranted and ultimately rejected the arguments brought by a few of the harbor tenants, who based their case on a theory that a 1983 law allowing the Marina lease was unconstitutional. Pete’s Harbor was represented by Attorney William Warhurst of Hannig Law Firm LLP.

After operating as a private marina for more than 60 years, Pete’s Harbor has asked tenants to leave by Jan. 15 to prepare for closure of the inner harbor and the start of significant maintenance and repair work to the outer harbor once vacated. Harbor owners have given tenants generous notice of the final date and launched a new website to provide another way for tenants to find resources and to keep the community up-to-date on all future plans.

The new site, petes-harbor.org, tells the story of Pete’s Harbor and founder, Pete Uccelli, in addition to answering frequently asked questions about the harbor and the residential community planned for the marina.

“We are so excited about the future of Pete’s Harbor, and we want to share that excitement,” said owner Paula Uccelli, 70. “We also wanted to create an online resource to help our few remaining tenants locate a new marina for their boats and provide the greater community with all the latest information.”

The yacht and boat owners who rent slips from Pete’s Harbor have been asked to relocate their vessels to another marina by Jan. 15 to allow for the start of major maintenance and repairs to both the inner and outer harbor. Pete’s Harbor has for months provided support and resources to its tenants, including lists of nearby marinas with available slips. In addition to Pete’s, 15 marinas in the San Francisco Bay Area are equipped to accommodate boat tenants.

Uccelli, who owned and operated Pete’s Harbor alongside her husband for 44 years, said the Harbor has not undergone significant repairs – beyond routine maintenance – since 2005. A major maintenance-needs survey will begin in January once tenants have vacated.

These renovations will pave the way for the Harbor’s next steps. Pete’s Harbor is in the process of being sold to a new owner and, pending City approval, will be converted into a residential community and commercial marina.

Paula Uccelli said that while change is difficult, she is excited about the prospective new development, which won unanimous approval of the Redwood City Planning Commission in October. The project will provide significant community benefit, including 411 units of much-needed family housing, the creation of 2,000 jobs and an estimated $2.4 million a year in Redwood City property taxes, $1 million of which will go directly to local schools.

Once completed, the project will also add acres of new open space for the public benefit, including new public walkways, bike paths, gazebos, picnic areas, a public sports court, playground and added Bay Trail, which will connect to the surrounding trail system.

When Pete Uccelli built his harbor in the 1950s, he envisioned a place that would benefit the entire community. As he watched the Peninsula’s needs evolve, he dreamed of leaving a lasting legacy through the creation of a residential and marina community.

Shortly before Pete Uccelli passed in 2005, he agreed to sell the inner harbor and 10.7-acre property to Redwood City Harbor Communities LLC, whose developer, Paul Powers, Pete deemed an honorable man with integrity and vision to serve as a caring steward of the land. The outer harbor, which the Uccelli’s maintain under a 49-year lease with the State of California, will be transferred to Powers, who will similarly operate it as a marina.

Now eight years later, Paula is working to finish Pete’s latest project in honor of his lasting legacy.

“It’s truly my honor and privilege to carry out Pete’s ultimate dream of leaving a residential community that will allow hundreds more families to enjoy the beauty of the waterfront for years to come,” she said.

Stay tuned.

About the Author

Zennie Abraham
Zennie Abraham | Zennie Abraham or "Zennie62" is the founder of Zennie62Media which consists of zennie62blog.com and a multimedia blog news aggregator and video network, and 78-blog network, with social media and content development services and consulting. Zennie is a pioneer video blogger, YouTube Partner, social media practitioner, game developer, and pundit. Note: news aggregator content does not reflect the personal views of Mr. Abraham.

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