Crews clear out storm drains at illegal RV camp in Santa Rosa business park
Public works employees on Wednesday used a large vacuum truck at Northpoint Corporate Center in southwest Santa Rosa, flushing and suctioning clean about a dozen or more city storm drains that ideally feed rain water to the nearby Roseland Creek.
Along with the usual leaves, small rocks and debris, the city public works crew extracted a duffel bag, makeup, parking signs, human waste and drug syringes - byproducts of a homeless encampment that sprung out of a large number of RVs, campers, cars and trucks parked in recent months along several streets of the business park.
The impact of improperly disposed waste on city infrastructure and the environment has been a particular concern of officials in recent weeks.
“Our storm drains and our sewer drains are two different systems - the storm drains go to the nearest local creek and the sewer system goes to the Laguna Treatment Plant,” said Ron Simi, a public works crew supervisor.
Clint McKay, street maintenance superintendent for the city’s Transportation and Public Works Department, said deployment of the vacuum truck Wednesday was not a routine storm drain cleaning but rather a direct response to sanitation and environmental issues caused by those who live in the RVs and vehicles parked along Apollo, Mercury, Challenger and Capricorn ways.
A half dozen RVs and other vehicles first showed up at the business park back in January, said Keith Woods, CEO of the North Coast Builders Exchange, which has its offices on Apollo Way. But around late spring or early summer the number of vehicles “grew exponentially,” he said.
Woods, who is president of the Northpoint Corporate Center Owner’s Association, said he’s counted as many as 57 RVs as well as 15 or more tents. Property and business owners are sympathetic to the plight of those who are forced to live in their vehicles but having such a large number without the property facilities, such as toilets and garbage receptacles has led to a number of “environmental concerns,” Woods said.
“It’s more the health, safety and environmental issues that concern us that have come with this encampment,” he said.
Police officials have set a tentative target of mid-September to begin strict enforcement of laws that prohibit living in vehicles on the street. Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Jonathan Wolf said the residents at the RV camp are in violation of various vehicle, penal and health and safety code violations, including a city ordinance that requires vehicles parked on the street to be moved at least every 72 hours.
Meanwhile, the city housing and community services staff are working with Santa Rosa Catholic Charities outreach workers to connect those camping in the area with services, shelters, family support and permanent or temporary housing, including lodging in RV parks or campgrounds.
Jennielynn Holmes, director of shelter and housing for Catholic Charities, said that in one month, outreach workers have made contact with 97 people at the camp. Of those 12 have gone to shelters, and temporary or permanent housing is being sought for an additional 13 people.
Holmes said her team is trying to find space in a local RV park for 24 people. She said that placement is complicated by the fact that many of the involved RVs lack valid insurance and registration with the state Department of Motor Vehicles, which is a requirement at many RV parks.
St. Vincent de Paul Sonoma County is helping campers at the business park, particularly those displaced by last year’s North Bay wildfires, get their vehicles registered and insured. But it’s unclear if that can happen before mid-September.
Adrienne Lauby, a member of the advocacy group Homeless Action, said RV residents are living in the business park because they have nowhere else to go.
“Of course people aren’t supposed to be living on the streets in their RVs, but homeless people have shelter in these RVs. And there’s not a lot where they can park and be safe,” she said. “If they had that lot, there could be trash pickup, porta-potties and the other basics of human life.”
Lauby said the amount of money currently being spent on environmental cleanup of storm drains, police arrests and citations, and ultimately the “immense cost of towing all these people’s homes” is a waste of taxpayer money.
The planned enforcement sometime in mid-September will be the fifth time “people will have been scattered from hither to yon,” she said.
On Friday, a number of people were arrested on a range of offenses, including probation violations, outstanding warrants and suspicion of drug possession, said Wolf, the police sergeant. Of those, two were given previous warnings for camping in a tent in a roadway, he said.