Glance across the overgrown former walnut orchard along Santa Rosa's Montgomery Drive and next to St. Eugene's Cathedral, and it's easy to imagine that nothing has happened for decades within the two chain-link fences encircling the ruins of the Carrillo Adobe.
But the briars conceal a burst of conflict and activity at the creekside spot where Santa Rosa was born, where Maria Carrillo built an earthen home atop the abandoned stone foundations of what may have been intended to become California's northernmost Spanish mission.
On Wednesday, Larry Carrillo, a descendant of the city's first non-native family, walked onto the 15-acre swath of creekside land with a police officer and Santa Rosa High history teacher Dave Franzman.
Carrillo Adobe Vandals
The officer was there to assure that no squatters ordered in recent weeks to vacate the property would hassle Carrillo and Franzman as they searched encampments scattered with trash, excrement and bicycle parts for original timbers carried away from the 175-year-old adobe.
Carrillo, Franzman and some helpers have by now recovered 14 of an unknown number of original porch posts and ceiling beams that were stolen from the ruins and carted to nearby encampments to be burned or used to support tarps for shelter.
Franzman, who in the past has brought dozens of members of Santa Rosa High's History Club to clear brambles and trees and to examine the adobe ruins, was conflicted over what squatters have done to the property over just the past few months.
"I am sorry for the homeless. Most of them are good people and I wish society provided for them in a humane way," he said. At the same time, he lamented that the ruins have been pillaged and the property between it and St. Eugene's Cathedral dug up in places and littered with human waste and other hazards.
The teacher said he was shocked to see how many camps — most of them vacated by Wednesday — had been established since last fall among the trees and blackberry brambles.
"It's unsafe. It's totally unclean and unsanitary," he said. "I'd like to see it get the recognition it deserves as the beginning of Santa Rosa."
The city is planning to clear away any remaining encampments on Feb. 15.