Facing eviction, residents of makeshift Cloverdale trailer park demand meeting with property owners

Residents of Gerdes Apartments and Trailer Court held a press conference at the property Monday evening to bring wider attention to their plight and to ask that the park’s new owners give them more time to find new places to live.|

Residents who are facing eviction from a makeshift trailer park in Cloverdale have formed a tenants union and are calling on the new owners of the property to meet with them and give them more time to find another place to live.

Residents of Gerdes Apartments and Trailer Court held a press conference at the property Monday evening to bring wider attention to their plight.

“I’ve lived here for many years and I’m a respectful and hardworking person,” said Adrian Cholula Gonzalez, who lives at the trailer park with his wife Yasmin Lara and their son.

“Now, I live day-to-day worried, unable to sleep wondering where I’m going to take my wife and 10-year-old son,” he said in Spanish. “My son has autism and intellectual disability. If I have to move out of the city or county, it would deeply affect him because he’s very attached to his home, his teachers and his classmates.”

Earlier this month, the residents were told by the new owners of 890 Rockwell Road that they had to vacate the property within 60 days. Gary Gerdes, their longtime landlord who for years operated a nearby auto wrecking yard, recently sold the property to Curtis and Rebecca Clemmer, a Cloverdale couple who want to make upgrades.

With rents at Gerdes Apartments and Trailer Court still in the hundreds of dollars, the residents, many of them elderly, on fixed incomes and with medical disabilities, have been spared Sonoma County’s crippling rental market.

The property is tucked away northeast of the Cloverdale city limits, just south of the Russian River, in the northernmost reaches of Sonoma County’s famous Alexander Valley.

During the press conference, about half a dozen residents gave testimonials describing the difficulty of finding housing that is truly affordable in Sonoma County.

The speakers included Soul Cotton, 53, an auto body worker who moved to the trailer park six years ago to be near the auto wrecking yard Gary Gerdes operated for many years. Cotton, who was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer three months ago, said he had been pushed out of the auto body business due to high rents.

The trailer park was a good fit for him and his tools, he said. But Cotton said cancer has left him unable to work and has depleted his savings. He added that it’s nearly impossible to find a “live-work situation” in Sonoma County.

Rebecca Clemmer has stated that the tenants have known for some time that a sale of the property was in the works and that they’ve had plenty of time to prepare to move out.

Residents rejected that claim Monday and said the former owner provided very few details about the negotiations. They said the former property manager told them little would change if the property sold and they would be allowed to stay, with roughly only a 10% increase in rent.

On Tuesday, Rebecca Clemmer told The Press Democrat and she and her husband are in the process of setting up a meeting with the tenants.

“We’re going to be meeting up with them to see what we can do,” Clemmer said.

In the four weeks since the residents received their notices to vacate the property, several local advocacy groups have rallied to support them. Housing advocates with the North Bay Organizing Project helped the residents stage Monday’s press conference.

Representatives from Sonoma County Tenants Union, La Familia Sana, Community Action Partnership, Undocufund, Raizes Collective and North Bay Jobs with Justice also attended.

Cynthia King, CEO of Community Action Partnership, said there are housing alternatives in the community that could be available to the residents. She said organizations like hers or Catholic Charities can assist “but it usually takes time.”

Cholula Gonzalez, the resident who lives in the trailer park with his wife and son, said he and other residents just want a chance to speak to the property owners.

“We haven’t met her. We can’t judge her. We can’t say bad things about her. We can only offer our respect,” he said. “We just would like to sit down with her and ask what it is she wants and let her know what we want.”

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pressreno.

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