Portland unlawfully destroyed boats to keep public docks safe and clean, report shows

By Kristian Foden-Vencil (OPB)
Aug. 23, 2023 8:52 p.m.

Portland Parks & Recreation has been unlawfully destroying boats to keep public docks safe and clean, according to a report from the city ombudsman’s office.

Boats anchored in the Willamette River near Ross Island appear to be abandoned, June 25, 2022.

Boats anchored in the Willamette River near Ross Island appear to be abandoned, June 25, 2022.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB


Most public docks in Portland have strict rules, like closing and opening times and no overnight mooring. But boat owners often stay for days or even live dockside, ignoring the city’s compliance requests.

So the parks bureau issues seizure notices, warning offending owners that their boats will be towed away and destroyed.

State law requires seized boats to be stored for 30 days before being destroyed, so owners can appeal the notice or at least retrieve their stuff.


But Elizabeth Martinez, with the ombudsman’s office, said the investigation found the parks bureau seized vessels and destroyed them immediately.

“We believe that Parks mistakenly thought that the 30-day storage clock started when they provided the pre-seizure notice,” Martinez said. “That is not in line with state law.”

The report found that six boats had been destroyed in 2022. It also found equity concerns with the process, noting that bureau practices “resulted in confiscation of valuable property from some of the City’s most marginalized community members and, in some instances, left them without shelter.”

Owners can now file liability claims against the city. It’s not clear how much the boats were worth.

“The City’s handling of boat tows resulted in individuals unjustly losing their property and undermined their right to due process,” said City Ombudsman Jennifer Croft in a press release. “The City should do what it can to address the harm done to affected boat owners and ensure that the correct procedures are consistently followed in future.”

Vincente Harrison with Portland Parks & Recreation issued a letter in response to the investigation, saying the bureau will now abide by state seizure laws and continue dealing equitably with people living on boats.

“We appreciate the diligent investigation,” the letter reads. “The report highlights improvements that can be made in Portland Parks & Recreation’s vessel seizure procedure.”

The investigation was prompted by a boat owner who filed a complaint with the ombudsman’s office in October 2022.