Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Friday, Dec. 1, 2023 @ 3:57 p.m. / Local Government, Ocean, Our Culture

'Setting the Narrative': Harbormaster Tim Petrick Tells His Side of the Story

Tim Petrick was hired on as Crescent City Harbormaster in 2021. | Jessica C. Andrews

(Updated at 11:50 p.m. Friday to correct the number of years Petrick worked at the Richmond Yacht Club.)

It wasn’t the first time Tim Petrick and the Crescent City Harbor District had been the subject of criticism from Roger Gitlin.

The former two-term county supervisor turned associate editor for the Del Norte Triplicate has chronicled the Harbor District’s legal conflict with Fashion Blacksmith, the snail’s pace process to reinstate dredging and the port’s involvement with Alex Lemus, of Renewable Energy Capital, for at least a year.

But after the Triplicate ran an article on Nov. 15 about Crescent Seafood and a breakdown in communications regarding its lease with the Harbor District, Petrick and the Board of Commissioners sent an official letter to publisher David Thornberry and Country Media owners Carol and Steve Hungerford. The letter asks the Triplicate to print a “corrected article that will mitigate the damage that has been done.”

On Thursday, after the Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 Nov. 21 to send that letter, Petrick agreed to sit down for an interview with the Wild Rivers Outpost, saying he needs to “set the narrative.”

“The narrative, it seems like, with the public, Roger (Gitlin), and all of them has been that the harbor is a gross failure and our leadership team and the Board is to thank for that,” Petrick said. “And I think it’s just not true. And instead of just being reactionary to all of the things that he has to write, I think we need to start putting it out before anybody else gets to, you know, make a decision on what they think it is. Because there’s so much rumor that goes around and that’s all false.”

On Nov. 15, Gitlin wrote that Crescent Seafood owner Kurt Hochberg had been operating on a month to month lease for four years despite requesting to negotiate a long-term lease with the Harbor District.

Petrick had presented a new lease to Hochberg in September 2023, but the restaurant owner was unable to open it due to a computer glitch and had received no response from the Harbor District when he asked for a physical copy, Gitlin wrote.

Gitlin’s article also states that the Harbor District is asking for 6 percent of Hochberg’s gross receipts and he must provide $4 million in insurance.

“In the wake of the recent arbitration decision awarding Fashion Blacksmith a $1.9 million award for failing to dredge the inner boat basins … one can draw the conclusion the Harbor is seeking to replace lost revenue on the backs of its tenants’ base,” Gitlin wrote.

In its letter to Thornberry, the Harbor District states that Hochberg’s lease had expired Sept. 1, 2022 and he was allowed to continue operating on a month-to-month basis since then.

The Harbor District disputes Hochberg’s statements in the article that he didn’t receive a new lease offer until September 2023. According to the Harbor District, Hochberg acknowledged via email dated July 27, 2023 that he received the new lease and, “in fact begins negotiating on its terms.”

The Harbor District also states that it’s standard practice for the district to receive a base rent plus a portion of the tenant’s revenue. This is how the Crescent Seafood owner’s original lease was structured when he opened in 2017. Six percent is the standard revenue sharing for restaurants, the Harbor District writes.

On Nov. 21, Hochberg said he wanted to work with the Harbor District and “save this business.” Commissioner Wes White agreed to place Crescent Seafood’s lease on a future agenda.

Meanwhile, White’s colleagues, Rick Shepherd and Gerhardt Weber urged harbor staff to be more proactive about getting their story out.

“You want transparency, we’re coming out with facts that legally were true,” Shepherd told the public at that meeting. “And we’re going to work on a monthly basis and putting out a report from this harbor that states the facts of what’s going on. This (letter) is where it starts, by telling the truth from the harbor as to the way it actually happened.”

On Thursday, choosing to work in the old U.S. Coast Guard building at the foot of Whaler Island and with the crew of the USCG Cutter Barracuda casting off amidst a downpour, Petrick said the Crescent Seafood article is one example of rumors he’s been battling. Others include the idea that he hates the commercial fishing fleet and wants it to fail and that he wants to turn the Crescent City Harbor into a yacht haven. These are further from the truth, he said.

But the conflict with Fashion Blacksmith, including a lack of dredging under the Synchrolift — the platform that lifts boats onto land for maintenance — goes back 30 to 40 years, and was never properly addressed, Petrick said.

According to him, before he was hired the Harbor's normal way of doing business was through handshake agreements and backroom deals. He said he's now correcting those issues. This includes addressing $150 million worth of failed infrastructure as well as escaping the cycle of renting buildings in need of repair at below market rate with each new lease getting “worse and worse.”

“I think there was the mindset in the harbor of 'Don’t spend money because we don’t have money to spend,'” he said, adding that commissioners even passed on grants because they were unable to find contributing funds. “I came in and I said, ‘Look, if we don’t spend money, if we don’t start fixing all of this, we’re not going to have a harbor. Citizens Dock will fail. That seawall will fail. Then you’ve got no commercial fishing. Then you’ve got no reason for the harbor to be here because there’s not enough recreational boating to support it.”

Petrick, who grew up in Pacific Grove, followed in his grandfather’s footsteps when he decided he wanted to be a harbormaster. His grandfather was Monterey’s first harbormaster, overseeing Fisherman’s Wharf, the commercial fishing wharves, the municipal boat harbor and a large stretch of beachfront park.

Petrick remembers trips to the maintenance yard with his grandfather and using mason jars to catch octopuses underneath the piers. He was 11 when his grandfather died. When the time came for him to go to college, he enrolled at the California Maritime Academy — his granddad’s alma mater.

Petrick earned a bachelor’s degree in marine transportation with a minor in liberal studies. And, after spending several years at sea as a third mate on a variety of private vessels — including transporting USAid grain around the world — he went back to the academy and earned a master’s degree in transportation and engineering management.

After holding down a job in the oil industry and then one tracking containers for Superior Foods, Petrick said he stumbled across the boatyard supervisor position for the Santa Cruz Port District, which was like being a small-scale harbormaster.

There were environmental issues to address and a small staff to oversee, but Petrick said he felt like there wasn’t a “path for me to move up.” So he found the harbormaster position at the Richmond Yacht Club Harbor.

“It was a unique situation in that it’s a private yacht club where they own their own harbor,” Petrick said. “The board of directors is elected from the yacht club. Because all of the board members were boat owners who had their boats in the harbor, they all had specific special interests.”

Petrick spent two years at the yacht club. He applied for the Crescent City Harbormaster position in 2014 on a whim. His predecessor, Charlie Helms, got the job at that time.

Petrick said he didn’t think about Crescent City until COVID. Between the pandemic and the struggles of being a working family living in the Bay Area, when the deputy harbormaster position in Crescent City became available, Petrick threw his hat into the ring.

“It almost didn’t work out for the silliest reason,” Petrick said. “We showed up to interview in September of 2020, and we hit the hottest day on record in Crescent City. It’s like 103, and my wife looked at me and was like, ‘I’m not going to live in 103 degree heat.’ It was horrifically smoky. But we wanted out of the Bay Area and so Charlie and I negotiated and it made enough sense for us to move up here.”

Joking that the deputy harbormaster job description is to assist the harbormaster with everything, Petrick said he began digging into the Harbor District’s files. He wanted to familiarize himself with the port’s leases and the state of its infrastructure.

One of the first things Petrick did as deputy harbormaster was to red tag the harbor’s travel lift piers.

Petrick said he learned early on that the Harbor District had made several handshake agreements in the past that were never memorialized on paper. One example is the use of the Fishermen’s Wives building, which had been leased under a 50-year lease for $1 per year. But, Petrick said, he couldn’t find a record of the lease.

“We have a history of business owners in the harbor being commissioners and then getting paid out for their businesses — to close their businesses,” Petrick said.

Another example of a bad lease has to do with the old Englund Marine building at 201 Citizens Dock Road.

“I’m going to piss people off when I say this, but it’s true so I’m just going to say it: The lease for the old Englund Marine building, the provision was that when they left they either handed over the deed of the building or cleared the building out — demolish the building,” Petrick said, adding that Englund Marine owned the building while the Harbor District owned the land. “The harbor’s best bet would have been to either enact that clause and say, ‘Hey, you can either demolish it or you can just hand it over.’ We bought it from them.”

Petrick, who took on the deputy harbormaster job until Helms retired in February 2021, said he realized that the Harbor District didn’t have a permit to dredge — “we didn’t even have one that was close.”

He said he couldn’t find lease renewal agreements for Fashion Blacksmith, though owner Ted Long said his lease had been renewed. Petrick said with a lack of a consistent filing system at the Harbor District when he was hired, the agreement could have been misplaced.

“I was trying to get things professionalized,” Petrick said. “And I was picking fights with the oldest problems first, which are, of course, the worst ones to pick fights with.”

Fashion Blacksmith, which had been a tenant for 42 years, filed a complaint against the Harbor District in Del Norte County Superior Court on Feb. 9, 2022. Long accused the harbor of breach of contract because it did not maintain a depth of 18 feet below the Synchrolift, which Petrick says the harbor owns. According to Fashion Blacksmith, the Harbor District failed to maintain its facility.

According to a decision from a three-member state arbitration panel on June 5, 2023, the dredging stipulation was included in a 1996 amendment to Fashion Blacksmith’s lease. In June, arbitrators decided that the Crescent City Harbor District owed nearly $1.3 million in damages to Fashion Blacksmith and ordered the port to dredge under the Synchrolift by October.

In June, Petrick told the Outpost that to do that dredging the Harbor needed a beneficial use permit from the California Water Resources Control Board. To get that permit, it needed to find a project that could free up the 90,000 cubic yards of material in its dredge ponds.

On Thursday, Petrick said the Board of Commissioners was ready to dredge under the Synchrolift without obtaining a permit. He said he outlined the reasons why that would be a bad idea.

“Fines, the inability to get future permits, the fact that it’s a criminal violation,” Petrick said. “I told them if you choose to do that, I’m going to resign and go elsewhere.”

Petrick said there came a point where he refused to work with Long. According to the harbormaster, Long had come across a May 2010 article from The Carmel Pine Cone describing Petrick’s arrest for drunken driving and was circulating it among fishermen.

The Pine Cone reported that Petrick, who was 25 at the time, was in a pickup truck trying to get up a hill in a remote area of Monterey County when he ran over a teenage boy. According to the article, the boy was treated for a broken collar bone and pain to his neck and shoulder.

Petrick said Long began circulating that article among fishermen after he argued against illegally dredging under the Synchrolift.
Petrick said he was working for California State Parks at the time and was at a party with his coworkers in a field away from the road. While he was initially with a felony, Petrick said he was convicted for misdemeanor DUI.

The Pine Cone didn’t follow up with an article on the outcome of the case, Petrick said.

“I made a mistake and I don’t shy away from telling people about it. It’s not like a dirty secret,” he said. “I didn’t know you could get a DUI in a field. I thought you had to be on a road. I think a lot of people have this misconception that DUIs are this horrible thing that should ruin a person’s reputation forever.”

During the arbitration process, Petrick said he and Long has reached a better understanding. Though Long hasn’t publicly announced that Fashion Blacksmith is going out of business, commissioners are worried about finding another boatyard operator to take its place, Petrick said.

“The goal now is what is the fastest way to bring that boatyard up to environmental standards and equipment standards and to bring in an operator that can operate it for the benefit of all of the boats in our harbor,” he said. “That spot is going to be a boatyard. It’s going to need, my estimate is $8 million in investment to bring it up to current standards and improve all of the equipment to the point where we can bring in another operator. There are a lot of boatyard grants out there, though.”

There are other plans for the harbor's future. This includes potentially turning the old Redwood Harbor Village RV park into a community hub with pop-up shops, food trucks and restaurants. Petrick also envisions increasing the level of security at the harbor by creating an "enhanced harbor patrol," though he admits he and staff may have gotten a little ahead of themselves.

A patrol force would deter drug use, theft and vandalism at the Harbor, though officers would focus more on public education rather than "trying to chase people down."

"There would be significant amounts of training in marine firefighting, search and rescue, vessel tows, medical training," he said. "Things like that to really bolster the safety and security of the harbor fishing fleet, especially with the Coast Guard having left."

The Harbor District also scored big in terms of the grant dollars it received this year — $12 million — and is seeking more as it looks to redesign Citizens Dock and replace the crumbling seawall.

Petrick even talks about introducing local fishermen to aquaculture as a way to take advantage of Crescent City's clean water, supplement their income and making sure fresh seafood stays local.

But all those plans start with infrastructure.

"I can't get anybody to invest in something that could fall into the ocean next week," he said.


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