The San Leandro and other fly-by-nights

Some old vessels that wind up in Stockton have cool back-stories. Like the San Leandro, a ferry that transported people and cars across San Francisco Bay before the bridges. When the San Leandro — what was left of it — was towed into Stockton in 2013, I enjoyed writing about it from the historical perspective.

There’s another perspective: scofflawry. 

The San Joaquin District Attorney’s Office has issued a complaint ( San Leandro complaint ) charging the San Leandro scrappers with — well it’s complicated. Just reading the list of defendants in the complaint makes you dizzy.

Essentially, the D.A. alleges various, ever-shifting owners and their companies were salvaging the metal hull at an illegal dock out by Windmill Cove; that they ignored a raft of necesary permits; and that they polluted the Delta with hazardous waste. That, in short, they ignored all the laws and did what they wanted to do in a rogue salvage operation. 

Then they came to Stockton. 


The scrappers towed the San Leandro to the south bank at Mormon Slough. That’s when I wrote about the boat. Afterward, when they started cutting it up — oops — it sank, allegedly spilling toxic fluids into the channel.

Normally, the coast Guard won’t allow a dead boat to be towed with toxic fluids aboard — for precisely the reason that it may sink and pollute. But a source close to the case says one of the owners hid the fluids from the Coast Guard.

I mention this case not because of its relatively modest importance but because it appears to be typical of the way many dead boat owners roll. Ironically, though 40 or so government agencies may have jurisdiction over any given point in the Delta, the lack of oversight and enforcement out allows fly-by-nights to operate. These characters often do not play straight with each other or the law. Sometimes the public is left holding the bag.

Though we live on the Delta few understand this. Now you understand why I have taken a more skeptical tone in recent columns about questionable vessels. Though I have thrown the owner of the Aurora on the defensive, I don’t mean to tar all the boats and owners out there with the San Leandro brush. I root for owners. Just not blindly.

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  • Blog Author

    Michael Fitzgerald

    Mike Fitzgerald is The Record’s award-winning metro columnist. His column runs in the paper three times a week. Born in San Francisco, he was raised in Stockton. His column covers diverse beats including, sometimes, the offbeat. Read Full
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