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OP-ED: The future of Pete's Harbor
January 12, 2013, 05:00 AM By Paula Uccelli

When my late husband, Pete Uccelli, built his harbor out of swampland more than 60 years ago, he dreamed of a creating a place that would serve the needs of our community. Pete's Harbor opened in 1958 to become one of the Peninsula's first marinas — and one of the few places where locals could keep their boats.

A lot has changed since the 1950s and, over time, Pete saw the Peninsula's needs evolve. In witnessing the growth of other marinas, Pete's dream for his own marina changed, and he began to envision building a residential community that would provide hundreds of families with access to the waterfront he loved. He even found a developer, Paul Powers of the Redwood City Harbor Communities, LLC. He considered him an honorable man who would serve as a caring steward of the land.

Sadly, Pete passed in 2005 but, in the years since, I have remembered my husband's dream.

The future plans for Pete's Harbor come as a surprise to no one. For years, the developer and Redwood City hosted well-attended meetings to discuss the harbor's future. There was even a public vote for a past development proposal that proved too much for our community. As a result, Paul revised his ideas and brought forward a plan that maintained the original vision of a community with wonderful new public amenities and significantly reduced density. All the while, our tenants have been well-informed about these plans and the vast majority of boating tenants even signed leases agreeing to relocate within 30 days at the request of their landlord.

Regardless, a very small group has become determined to spread information that is hurtful, unsubstantiated and wrong. In the pursuit of their own self-interests, they have tried numerous and unsuccessful tactics to persuade the state and now the courts to block their eviction. Their selfish efforts have put the future of Pete's Harbor in jeopardy and have threatened the Uccelli family's life work.

Those seeking to stay at the harbor after Jan. 15 have generated much confusion, and I think it is important to clarify our relationship with the state of California. In 1956, the state said the entire property, including the surrounding waterways, was the property of my late-husband. Despite this, in 1981, the state changed its position and sued to take back the land, including our home. After much negotiation and controversy, we came to terms with the state when, in 1983, the state Legislature passed a law, formally deeding the harbor property to Pete's Harbor and creating a long-term lease for our business to operate the outer waterway. In 1985, the Superior Court of San Mateo County, confirmed the deed and lease. In all of the years since the lease began, the state never sent a single invoice or let us know how to submit our annual rent payments, despite our great effort to pay. I visited with state officials in person and offered to pay, but no one could tell me what the state claimed. Only several weeks after I paid a sum calculated by my attorneys did the state decide to claim that we owed $409,253 — or face default and the immediate loss of the state leases.

While we disagree with the state's position, we paid under protest and set out our claim for refund of the overpayment.

What is important for the public to understand is that we have paid our lease in full, and our lease remains in full force and effect as it has for 28 years. As the leaseholder, it is also our responsibility, not only to maintain the leasehold improvements, which we have, but also to perform repairs, beyond routine maintenance, when the forces of nature require it. This is precisely why we now need to vacate the harbor and have given our tenants ample time to find new slips to dock their vessels.

Like so many of our tenants, we cherish the memories of our 60-year operation of Pete's Harbor and have great appreciation for those who have called it home for their yachts, boats, RVs and even themselves. The few remaining tenants have been provided the resources they need to find alternative arrangements. We hope these tenants will continue to utilize the resources provided, which are also available at www.petes-harbor.org, to successfully relocate by Jan. 15.

While we realize that change can be difficult, I am looking forward to the exciting new beginnings through the conversion of Pete's Harbor into a residential community that will offer so much more to this community. This was Pete's and my dream, and I know that if Pete were here today he would be so excited about the harbor's bright future.

Paula Uccelli is the owner and operator of Pete's Harbor, where she's worked for 44 years alongside her late husband, mentor and business partner, Pete Uccelli. She has sat on dozens of local nonprofit boards, including the Kainos Home and Training Center and the Sequoia Hospital Foundation. She was recognized as Redwood City's Citizen of the Year in 1989 and as the California State Legislature's Woman of the Year in 2006.

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