Groups advocate for Sonoma County residents living in tiny homes, trailers
A Sebastopol woman whose tiny home has been red-tagged by the county for a zoning violation has until Jan. 19 to move or make repairs.
One of the violations cited is her use of a composting toilet when hookup to a septic tank, costing thousands, is required. Compost toilets use natural plant material and enzyme activity and are said to be good for the environment, according to Kathleen Finigan, spokesperson for Homeless Action of Santa Rosa.
Homeless Action and a group called SAGE, Stop All Government Evictions, has highlighted the case of Copperwoman Saso, 70, a music healer, singer/songwriter, as an example of what activists in the group consider inequities in the county permit system and state law. They said they understand that some situations are life-threatening and unsafe, but believe enforcement of “antiquated” laws is putting people out on the street in other cases.
SAGE, founded by journalist Jonathan Greenberg, who runs the Sonoma Independent website, recently organized a concert in Santa Rosa, featuring Saso and property owners/musicians Andrea and Bob Culbertson. Funds raised were to be used to defray costs associated with the movement to stop what they believe are unfair and unnecessary citations. It was promoted as a “Benefit to Support Housing Rights” and sought donations of $10-$20.
“We’re trying to save her from eviction,” said Finigan. “She’s 70, quite delightful and she deserves to have her home. It’s a lovely, place, just adorable.”
Greenberg said more than 189 units have been ordered evacuated in the past year (ending Sept. 1) by Permit Sonoma.
“These mobile and converted dwellings are being offered not by slumlords, but by property owners who provide about 10 times as many affordable units of housing than every unit built by the county and through developer set asides during the past two decades put together,” he wrote in a report.
Bradley Dunn, policy manager for Permit Sonoma, said the county does not issue eviction notices, “we enforce the (state) building code. We require that landlords with substandard housing bring their property up to code. We have a way to defer enforcement that allows them to do the upgrades. There are minimum safety standards and we need to enforce them.”
He said there have been 75 complaints about unpermitted structures between Aug. 30 and Sept. 1, 11 being used as vacation rentals, including pool houses, chicken coops, room additions and garage conversions. There were also 74 complaints about unpermitted travel trailers, 12 of which were on unpermitted cannabis sites. Of about 118 dwellings that occupied travel trailers, 27 complaints were unfounded or unverified, nine were unoccupied and a sprinkling of tiny homes and one yurt were occupied.
SAGE went to the Dec. 14 Sonoma County Board of Supervisors’ meeting to urge supervisors to pass a moratorium on Permit Sonoma evacuation notices to low-income renters in simple homes. Saso spoke to the board during public comments.
Supervisors said they couldn’t alter the agenda item and voted to extend allowances for fire survivors to keep RVs on their property. But they acknowledged the need to put the issue of the use of compost toilets on the agenda for January.
West county Supervisor Lynda Hopkins has been a champion of composting toilets since she was first elected in 2016. She said she agrees with SAGE that “there are lot of people in west county who are housed safely in dwellings that are not strictly to code. It’s better for them to stay where they are as long as it’s truly habitable,” she said. “I’ve been having conversations with the county counsel about a way to do a moratorium on citing these structures.”
In a letter to supervisors before the Dec. 14 board meeting, Greenberg said “thousands of unpermitted renters live with the constant fear that one call from an anonymous neighbor to Permit Sonoma could all too well result in a dreaded 30-day eviction order, standard operating procedure whenever a code inspector shows up to look at a trailer, yurt, tent or tiny home, regardless of how safe they are.”
He said “modern alternatives such as composting toilets and trailer bathrooms, which are more affordable, conserve water and help to preserve the environment” are allowed in other regions in the state but not in Sonoma County.
Dunn said Saso was first cited Aug. 20 and on Nov. 19 was given another 60 days.
“We tried to work with the building owners and Copperwoman,” he said. “We are very cognizant of the housing crisis in the county. We need to protect the market for those on the lower end. Currently the state building code does not allow that kind of housing. A compost toilet is one part of it.”