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  Plight of East Brother in the Media -- and a GoFundMe
April 10, 2021

The saga of the East Brother Light Station unplugged continues. We have a GoFundMe campaign at If we have to go to off grid solar, the estimated cost is about $200,000. Replacing the submarine power cable is estimated at two to three times that much.

We are also soliciting recommendations for:

  • Solar contractors
  • Submarine cable suppliers
  • Submarine cable installers

Following is some of the great media coverage we have gotten:


Power Outage Threatens Future of East Brother Light Station
YouTube · KPIX CBS SF Bay Area
15 hours ago

Richmond’s oldest structure, a 147-year-old lighthouse, in jeopardy

By Tom Vacar
Published 14 hours ago
Richmond, KTVU FOX 2

For video, see

RICHMOND, Calif. - A throwback to the days of sailing ships and early steamers, the East Brother Light Station, is threatened with extinction because a modern day necessity: electricity, which is not available right now.

It's a place seen by most, only from afar, but a place usually open the public.

The still active lighthouse, between San Francisco and San Pablo Bays, is Richmond's oldest structure and has been operating for 147 years, since 1874.

It's also home to a truly unique non-profit dinner, bed and breakfast inn open to the public for overnighting and to day trippers for sightseeing and picnics.

"The lighthouse here is also the oldest wood frame operating lighthouse in the United States," said Mayor of Richmond Tom Butt who is also the president of the non-profit that saved and runs the light station.

Last week, a 30-year old, 2,000 foot power cable, installed by the Coast Guard, failed. "This is really an emergency. Right now the light that the Coast Guard operates is running on batteries and they only last 72 hours," said Mayor Butt.

The light and fog horns are the Coast Guard's responsibility, but it has not committed any money and could close it.

Since 1979, the light station has been operated by the East Brother Light Station non-profit group that restored the property and formed a bed and breakfast to underwrite the costs of operation.    

"Then this just knocked us for a loop," said Light Station Keeper Desiree Heveroh, who also says without a permanent fix, the whole thing is in jeopardy. "The generator that we have is from the '30s. It's built to last but it can only handle so much. Which I can only use one hour in the morning and one hour at night."

But a permanent fix has a big price. "It looks like several hundred thousand dollars to replace the cable. The alternative we're looking at is to turn the island into an off-the-grid solar project," said Mayor Butt.

But solar and the batteries needed to store power for night time, would cost about the same. The money is desperately needed so the island can re-open this summer and not fall into hopeless disrepair.  

"Any amount will help. We need your help to help make history again," said Ms. Heveroh.

The Light station has a Gofundme site as does its own web site.

'We're in a lot of trouble': The East Brother Light Station in the San Francisco Bay has no power

Andrew Chamings
April 9, 2021Updated: April 9, 2021 6:56 p.m.
East Brother Light Station in San Francisco Bay near Richmond, Calif.
East Brother Light Station in San Francisco Bay near Richmond, Calif.
aspenrock/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The historic East Brother Light Station Bed & Breakfast on the three-quarter-acre island in the San Francisco Bay has been without power for nine days, and lightkeeper Desiree Heveroh is currently living like a pioneer on the rock, as the iconic landmark's future darkens.

"It gets real cold on this rock," Heveroh tells SFGATE from the island Friday morning. "If it was at all possible, I'm living even further back in time here now, I get the fireplace packed every morning with eucalyptus bark and branches from around the island that I collect."

On April 1, the submarine cable that brings power to the light station from the Richmond coast failed, leaving the building and light station in darkness.Read More

The cable is owned by the U.S. Coast Guard, and though they fixed it after a lightning strike took it out in 1991, this time they have chosen not to, and instead are only providing minimal power for the flashing light in the tower.

This has left the bed-and-breakfast, which has been welcoming visitors via boat for more than 40 years, with a sinking future.

"We showed [the U.S. Coast Guard] around," Heveroh says, "and they basically said, 'It would be cheaper for us just to put the light in the tower on a solar panel.' So they're not going to replace the cable, which leaves us with no power at all. And their responsibility is done."

The light station on East Brother Island first shone in 1874, fueled by whale oil, but after a fire March 4, 1940, that destroyed the island's wharf and boathouse along with four boats, the light was automated and the government sought to tear down the keeper's house and other buildings.

After protests from local residents, the place was narrowly saved by newly formed East Brother Light Station nonprofit in 1979, which managed to get the landmark on the historic registry so it couldn't be torn down.

"Before '79, this place sat boarded up for decades, and vandalized and left to ruin. They were going to raze it down to the ground and just put up an aluminum pole with a light to serve its function," she says. "We put a call out like this to action then to save this lighthouse, and 40 years later we're going to be making history again."

"The light itself is working now, it charges when I run the generator," Heveroh says, "So I've been watching it like the days of old. The Coast Guard told me when they came out that if the light goes out I need to notify them."

"They said outright — their responsibility is to make sure the light in the tower is flashing," she adds, "and they can do that in a much more economic way by putting it on solar rather than replacing the cable."

She says that Coast Guard were not adversarial, but the news was devastating.

East Brother Light Station in San Francisco Bay near Richmond, Calif.
East Brother Light Station in San Francisco Bay near Richmond, Calif.
dypics/Getty Images/iStockphoto

"They have specific marching orders that they cannot cross. Maybe if those people that make those rules catch wind of this maybe something will happen. We just need to get the message to them."

(The U.S. Coast Guard told SFGATE that more information on the situation would be forthcoming.)

Richmond Mayor Tom Butt, who was one of the founders of the nonprofit that saved the light station in the '70s, has also put out a public plea for ideas and funding to help to save the station. But if the Coast Guard won’t cover the costs, and the nonprofit can't raise the funds, the East Brother Light Station may shut down the inn forever.

Heveroh now lives on the rock in hope but without power beyond an old generator that she runs intermittently.

"I leave as seldom as possible, but recently I've been boating to the mainland to find antique machinists to fix the generator, or to get diesel," she says.

"In the morning it's freezing cold, so I light the fire and get my room warmed up, go turn on the generator for an hour so I can keep the freezer and the fridge from letting my food spoil," Heveroh says. "We don't have television or Wi-Fi or stuff like that out here."

"Sometimes I work in the garden and right now I've been canning, because I'm losing a lot of my frozen fruits so I've been turning it all into jam," she says. "But it's springtime and there are baby seals on my rock that I watch from my fence in the morning when I water my garden. It's magic."

In normal, non-pandemic times a Coast Guard-approved light station keeper would man the light station. This would also be the innkeeper of the now shuttered light station. But since coronavirus closed the inn, Heveroh has been watching it alone.

"We haven't made any money in a year. We still have our ongoing costs. We've been planning a reopening, you know, we remodeled several rooms and we replaced the copper roof which was donated to us," she says.

"I'm the first keeper not approved by the Coast Guard, so I'm kind of a pioneer," she laughs. "You can't leave this place empty. Word will get around, people will come and squat, vandalize, steal. We can't leave it alone. That's why I'm standing here on the island right now."

She realizes that replacing the cable is no small feat.

"It will cost at minimum $100,000 to fix the cable, plus permits need to be filed, and the channel needs to get shut down," she says. "It's a lot, but they [the Coast Guard] have the means and the pull to get the permits through. But if they're not going to help, we're in a lot of trouble."

The nonprofit has also been looking at solar, wind and wave off-grid power but know that that may cost as much as replacing the cable. A GoFundMe was set up on Friday seeking donations. 

"In the last 40-plus years we've been operational we haven't really needed anybody's help. But with something like this, post-coronavirus, not being able to make any money, it's a crippling blow," she says. "If they're not going to foot the whole bill maybe they'll match it, or maybe there's a grant we may qualify for. Just anything. This is the time right now and when it needs saving again, this part will also go into the island's story and its history."

Heveroh doesn't want to be the 147-year-old light station's last keeper, and she veers between feeling optimistic and beaten down.

"Last night I was worried and I was sad, but today I have whatever that resolve that the foundation members had when they started the foundation in the '70s, I feel that resolve and that fire. We can do this. We can save the island. I believe that that can happen," she says.

"And everyone who helps us will know that they were there for us so we can be there for them. We were planning on reopening. This is just devastating."

Written By
Andrew Chamings
Reach Andrew on
SFGATE Local Editor Andrew Chamings was formerly Senior Editor at The Bold Italic and has written for The Atlantic, Vice and McSweeney's. Follow him on TwitterEmail:

‘This would be a huge loss’: Fate of historic East Brother Lighthouse unclear after power system fails

Replacing the power infrastructure to the island could be too costly, mayor says

RICHMOND, CA – JAN. 27: The historic East Brother Light Station, a fixture off the coast of Richmond, Calif. for 146 years, shines in the morning light, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2019. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

RICHMOND, CA – JAN. 27: The historic East Brother Light Station, a fixture off the coast of Richmond, Calif. for 146 years, shines in the morning light, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2019. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
By ANNIE SCIACCA | | Bay Area News Group
PUBLISHED: April 9, 2021 at 12:11 p.m. | UPDATED: April 9, 2021 at 9:42 p.m.

RICHMOND — A failed underwater power cable may prove the knockout blow in preventing the historic East Brother Light Station from ever serving again as a charming bed-and-breakfast inn to foot the landmark’s restoration and maintenance bills.

On April 1, the submarine cable that brings power to the lighthouse in the San Pablo Strait off Richmond’s coast died, leaving the three-quarter-acre island without electricity, said Richmond Mayor Tom Butt, who has put out a public plea for ideas and funding to help to save the station.

While the U.S. Coast Guard has backup batteries to keep the beacon shining for boats plying the bay — and the foghorn runs on batteries and solar power — there isn’t enough juice to run an inn that needs a “significant power supply to operate lights, pumps, refrigerators, power tools, heaters, dishwashers and appliances,” Butt said.

Until the coronavirus pandemic forced the lighthouse’s closure, visitors could make reservations to stay and dine at the inn for several days. The deal included champagne and hors d’oeuvres, a multi-course dinner, a night in one of five rooms, and breakfast, as well a full tour of the 148-year-old buildings that comprise the station.

Though the lighthouse’s operators had hoped to reopen the inn this summer after a year-long hiatus, that can’t happen now unless a power source can be found, Butt said.

Butt was one of the founders of East Brother Light Station, Inc., a public benefit nonprofit that rehabilitated the East Brother Light Station in 1979 and opened it as a bed and breakfast inn in 1980. He is still the president of the nonprofit’s board, which maintains and runs the light station, even though the Coast Guard owns it.

Butt said he met with Coast Guard officials this week, and although they have been responsive in providing information and trying to find ways to help, they’re not confident they’ll be able to replace the power cable as was done in 1991 — the last time the cable failed after getting struck by lightning.

“I’m pretty worried,” Butt said in an interview Friday. “This would be a huge loss of a historic public asset.”

Coast Guard spokesperson Brandyn Hill said the agency is seeking a long-term solution to provide power to the lighthouse and navigation aid. “We are also exploring many new technologies that were not viable 30 years ago to achieve the best energy solution for all involved,” Hill added.

Replacing the submarine power cable could cost several hundred thousand dollars, Butt noted, and Coast Guard representatives told him they don’t have the same funding they did in 1991.

He said the Coast Guard recommended that the East Brother nonprofit explore installing solar power with a battery backup, but that could be complicated and expensive. The solar infrastructure may not store enough power to operate during several cloudy days, and a backup generator would require regularly hauling fuel to the island.

He has started reaching out to contractors to see how much it could cost to install solar on the property.

Even if a financially feasible solution is found, he said it likely would take several months before power could be restored.

“Our non-profit does not have that level of assets,’ Butt wrote in an email newsletter. “To complicate it further, we do not have ownership of the island, so we cannot secure a loan.”

In theory, the Coast Guard could begin transferring the island as surplus land to a new owner — including the nonprofit — but that would be a long and bureaucratic process, Butt said. And the Coast Guard has not indicated it would even be willing to do so, he added.

If the Coast Guard won’t pay for it, and if the East Brother nonprofit can’t come up with grants or other funding sources, they may need to shut down the inn forever.

That could lead the lighthouse to fall into disrepair, as it did in the 1960s and 1970s after the Coast Guard decommissioned lighthouse keepers in exchange for an automatic beacon for boats.

Since local organizers restored the building and opened the inn in 1980, revenue from the operation has been used to cover more than $1 million in maintenance over the last four decades, Butt estimates. New pier pilings, roofs, upgraded electrical systems, new wastewater treatment systems and other repairs were financed by that revenue.

All that work makes it possible to introduce people to the history of the lighthouse via public tours and overnight stays.

“Local history is an integral aspect of the fabric of Richmond,” said Melinda McCrary, executive director of the Richmond Museum of History and Culture, expressing sadness at hearing about the power failure and its potential impact on the light station.

McCrary called the light station “an important landmark that demonstrates the significance of our local maritime history and said that “closing the light station would be a tremendous loss to Richmond and the Bay Area.”

Without the stewardship of the inn and nonprofit, Butt worries the buildings would deteriorate. He hopes people will help brainstorm ways to persuade the Coast Guard to pay for it, or to find grants.

“Worst case, this may finally be the end of our 40-plus year stewardship of this historic landmark,” he said. “Without our continuous attention, it would quickly deteriorate and fall prey to vandals as it did prior to 1979. The public would lose a critical historic asset forever.”

Power system fails at East Brother Light Station on San Pablo Bay. Is it end of an era?

Lauren Hernández
April 8, 2021Updated: April 8, 2021 10:16 p.m.

East Brother Light Station on a small island just off Point San Pablo Harbor seen on Tuesday, July 23, 2019 in San Francisco, Calif.

East Brother Light Station on a small island just off Point San Pablo Harbor seen on Tuesday, July 23, 2019 in San Francisco, Calif.

Liz Hafalia / The Chronicle

View of the historic 1873 buildings that house the bed and breakfast inn at the East Brother Light Station on a small island just off Point San Pablo Harbor seen on Tuesday, July 23, 2019 in Richmond, Calif.

A 30-year old underwater power cable that keeps the lights on at the historic East Brother Light Station in San Pablo Bay has failed, and Richmond Mayor Tom Butt is pleading for help to get power back to the island.

Butt is co-founder of a nonprofit that for 41 years has run the iconic bed and breakfast on the island, which is owned by the U.S. Coast Guard. Without power for refrigeration, heaters, dishwashers and appliances, the B&B’s run may come to an end.

“That would be a real shame because... the buildings would deteriorate, the vandals would move in, the property would officially, ultimately, be destroyed,” Butt said Thursday night. “If we can’t operate it and make enough money to maintain it, we just have to walk away from it. Once that happens, it’s done. Coast Guard’s not going to take care of it.”

The three-quarter-acre island is home to a 147-year old lighthouse and innkeepers run the property, where they host guests in a bed and breakfast, cook for guests, give historical tours of the lighthouse and do demonstrations of a 1934 diesel foghorn on the island.

Power failed on the island on April 1. After a few days-worth of tests by an electrical contractor, Butt said, they determined the cable was the source of the failure.

It’s not the first time the cable has needed replacement. In 1991, Butt said, the cable was struck by lightning and “blew up.” The Coast Guard replaced the cable at the time, Butt said.

“Now it’s another 30 years, and we have another failure,” Butt said.

Butt said he visited the island on Thursday with about five Coast Guard officials, some of whom were electricians. While Butt said Coast Guard officials have been “very responsive” to the outage, he said officials “advised us that we are on our own” because the Coast Guard does not have the “same level of assets and funding they had in 1991.”

The Coast Guard is “looking at installing” a solar panel to operate the light “which would address their responsibilities for aids to navigation but leave the rest of the island without power,” he said.

Butt said a new cable could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars — money that the nonprofit doesn’t have.

Now, Butt said he is asking anyone to persuade the Coast Guard to repair or replace the cable, and he is pursuing any grant opportunities to fund a replacement cable or solar power installation to keep the lights on at the B&B.

“In the best of all worlds, the Coast Guard would put a new cable in because that could be done fairly quickly and it would give us everything we need,” Butt said. “We are looking at doing off-grid solar. That’s a possibility. It’s not cheap either, but it’s probably cheaper than putting in a new cable. Other than that, there really aren’t any other options.”

If the Coast Guard is unable to repair or replace the cable, and if grants aren’t able to fund a new cable or pay for solar power installation, Butt said “we would just have to walk away from it.”

Butt said that would mean the end of the nonprofit’s “40+ year steward stewardship of this historic landmark.”

Lauren Hernandez is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @ByLHernandez