The lights don't work anymore inside the old county hospital.
Shafts of dusty daylight illuminate graffiti-covered walls, courtesy of a vandal's latest attempt to break in - a hole in a window, a hole in a board.
The darkness makes it difficult to watch your step.
Piles of wires, long since stripped of their valuable copper, line the hallways. Broken glass crunches underfoot. Dirty needles - left on the floors here long after the hospital closed a five years ago - are a lingering danger.
This abandoned building and the 72-acre county health care campus it occupies in northeast Santa Rosa, home now to just a few functioning county offices, among them the morgue, has become a quagmire in the region's fitful bid to ramp up housing creation.
For county officials hoping to sell the site, developers angling to scoop it up and many neighbors who have opposed or scrutinized such deals in the past three years, it has become a cautionary tale.
That was brought into even sharper relief this past week, after the latest group in line to buy the site, demolish the buildings and erect hundreds of affordable housing units, walked away from the deal.
The previous buyer, a high-powered local developer, lost out after neighbors opposed to the sale prevailed in court, sending the county back to the drawing board.
It has been 15 years since Sutter Health announced it would leave the campus and five years since it moved out of the former community hospital to its gleaming new facility off Mark West Springs Road.
Caroline Judy, the county's general services director, and her staff, have invested hundreds of hours in plans for the site's future. Taxpayers also have paid heavily to secure the open, largely vacant campus. Those costs reached $768,000 in 2018-19 - up from $33,500 in 2015-16. Over the past four years, the total cost comes to more than $1 million.
And still, people are getting in. They're leaving behind clothes, bike parts, simple and ornate graffiti, and the occasional dirty needle.
County officials still speak of the property with hope, touting the possibility of a future deal. Even on Wednesday, after the latest setback, Supervisor James Gore called the site, albeit without its crumbling buildings, “a true asset.”
But it is also clear that years into a county-led process meant to help with the housing crunch - a quest that supervisors at one point thought should have been easy - the board has become battered and bruised in the face of an intractable challenge.
“The board is simply exhausted,” Supervisor Susan Gorin said.
Property in limbo
There are 17 buildings on the hillside campus situated along both sides of the 3300 block of Chanate Road. All but three of them are abandoned.
Ten undeveloped acres of oak forest and meadow have been set aside for open space, along with a historic 1-acre cemetery. The rest is up for sale.
That 71.6-acre spread, shaped like a crab claw, has for years been eyed within the halls of county government for future housing development. It is one of three now-vacant county properties, including the former Water Agency site on West College Avenue, that officials had hoped to offer up for speedy development of up to 1,200 housing units.
Supervisor Shirlee Zane, whose district includes the Chanate campus, folded those plans into her adopted slogan several years ago.
“Build, baby, build.”
She would become a key champion of the former proposal for 867 units that fell to a court challenge from neighbors last year, sending the county back to square one.
From inside the ransacked nearly 300,000-square-foot hospital on the north side of the campus, it's clear that any dream of expedience in transforming this property has been dashed.