A plan to house up to 75 people displaced by October’s wildfires in converted shipping containers on loan from Burning Man has come to an end, with organizers citing difficulty in navigating Santa Rosa’s permitting process and a related inability to secure funding.
Burners Without Borders, an international disaster relief group, trucked the seven converted containers to Santa Rosa at the end of October, just as firefighters were nearing full containment of the blazes. The idea, said Carmen Mauk, co-founder of Burners Without Borders, was that the metal containers — designed like tiny homes with beds, shelves, electrical wiring and mini fridges — could be of use to people in immediate need of housing.
Organizers originally were reserving the spaces for teachers, first responders and those in the medical field, but as the permitting process dragged on and those groups found housing, the focus changed to support local laborers, Mauk said.
“It’s just really discouraging,” she said of the scuttled plans.
The case reflects the hurdles that face some smaller aid efforts in setting up temporary housing within the city in the wake of the fires. A separate trailer camp established by a Santa Rosa contractor for his debris cleanup workers received special dispensation this week from the city after running into permit issues that could have cost him up to $10,000 a day in fines.
The Burning Man shipping containers, on loan from a camp in the annual arts and music festival, were brought from Nevada to an industrial lot in southwest Santa Rosa owned by cannabis entrepreneur Dennis Hunter, founder of the cannabis manufacturing firm CannaCraft. Hunter was providing the space next to CannaCraft for free.
“It seemed like it was going to be just really a godsend to get these trailers in and provide housing because at the time, there were a bunch of people just camped out at Dillon Beach and people really with just nowhere to go,” Hunter said.
Organizers began applying for permitting from the city on Oct. 31. Within three weeks, the application was reviewed and returned to Burners Without Borders with comments, said Jesse Oswald, permit intake manager for the city’s Planning and Economic Development Department.
That’s when the group was made aware of the regulatory hurdles it faced, Mauk said. An architect was needed to certify the containers, built in Nevada, were up to California’s codes, she said. The shipping containers’ doors needed to have windows installed, and a streetlight needed to be placed in the vicinity of the otherwise industrial area, she said.
While organizers got to work tackling those issues, volunteers worked to ready the makeshift village, dubbed Camp Oasis, installing artificial grass, plumbing and an 80-foot-by-30-foot party tent meant as a communal dining space.
While other private groups contacted Santa Rosa about bringing in temporary housing, none were so far in the process as the Burners Without Borders project, said Oswald, who voiced surprise Wednesday that the project was ending. The city had given its final questions back to organizers and was awaiting their response.
“To actually come in and make an application, this is the only group to submit an application to do anything,” he said. “... It was in its final stages.”