Joe Rodota Trail encampment breaking up, as Sonoma County officials move to reopen corridor

Sonoma County Regional Park rangers on Friday notified folks from an encampment between Dutton and Roseland avenues, and another closer to South Wright Road, that they would need to accept shelter or move by Tuesday..|

Sonoma County officials say the Joe Rodota Trail should soon reopen to the public after a scramble in the halls of local government yielded enough shelter space or alternative housing for nearly three dozen people who have made the paved corridor their home for most of the past month.

But it was a grim process that unfolded Friday, as a group of Sonoma County Regional Park rangers arrived at the two main trail encampments and distributed notices giving individuals there until 8 a.m. Tuesday to vacate or risk citation or arrest.

A stretch of neighboring tents and improvised shelters along a section of trail west of Dutton Avenue that had been a hub of conversation and activity just an hour or two earlier grew suddenly quiet, as park trucks pulled among them and rangers used spray paint to mark 23 individual camp sites to verify that each had been left formal notice.

People seated or standing around the area bore expressions ranging from resignation to anguish, as rangers, who usually perform more welcomed duties, walked among them.

Receiving a Notice to Vacate feels “very bad,” said Myra Bogarin, who was one of the first people to renew camping on a stretch of trail that has hosted multiple encampments in the past. “We get kicked out of everywhere.”

County representatives said outreach workers had been in and out of the encampment there and a smaller one close to South Wright Road for at least the past week, informing people of their right to accessible, alternative housing, which must be offered before they can legally be forced off public property.

In a Friday morning news release, the county announced those offers had been made and that some of the unhoused would be relocated on Friday.

“It is not just, ‘Here are some fliers. Go apply,’ ” county Communications Specialist Gilbert Martinez said. “We have made spaces for the individuals … They are tailored and immediately available.”

Last week, county officials closed the busy trail between Stony Point Road and Dutton Avenue because of public safety concerns, saying there were no vacant shelter spaces for those living there.

County Communications Manager Paul Gullixson said spots had opened recently at Sam Jones Hall in west Santa Rosa and at Los Guilicos Village near Oakmont to accommodate some new entries.

“When this started, we didn’t (have space), but things evolved and space did open up,” Gullixson said. “There’s always a churn at some of these places.”

At the board’s regular meeting last week, Supervisor Chris Coursey raised the prospect of using trailers that had been provided by the state in early 2020 for use at the fairgrounds by COVID-vulnerable residents in need of isolation.

The trailers belong to the county but need to be moved from the county fairgrounds because of a conflict with space, Health Services Director Tina Rivera said. They also are “very expensive” to operate and are not a long-term solution, she said.

Coursey would not address the trailers this week, but said, “There’s been a lot of work done in a positive direction, and we’ve got some good options for these folks.”

Several men on the trail said they expected only to be offered a place at Sam Jones Hall, a large dormitory-style shelter that some people find too noisy, too confined and potentially unsafe, despite its strict rules, which some bristle at.

Some also want to be offered more private options.

“They have motel rooms and trailers, but they kind of pick and choose” who gets those, said Jason Richards. “I know they have other things they can offer besides Sam Jones.”

He said he would rather stay where he is than go to Sam Jones. “You’re in your comfort zone here,” Richards said from his tent.

Others said that any place you’re offered is for only a limited time — just enough to “get comfortable” before you have to find a place to camp again, Nina Butterfly said.

Concerns about safety meant closing much of the trail to the public, at least from Dutton Avenue about halfway between Stony Point Road and South Wright Avenue.

It’s a busy travel corridor and recreational path, and the parks department closed it July 8 to the consternation of many who used it.

Fencing was erected along much of it to try to keep the camp from growing, though it has anyway, and officials fear it still could.

But the plan is to move any debris and hazardous materials from the trail in time to reopen it to the public within a week from when the encampment is cleared, county representatives said.

Fencing erected since the trail was closed will remain in place to prevent new encampments, county officials said.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan (she/her) at 707-521-5249 or On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

Mary Callahan

Environment and Climate Change, The Press Democrat

I am in awe of the breathtaking nature here in Sonoma County and am so grateful to live in this spectacular region we call home. I am amazed, too, by the expertise in our community and by the commitment to protecting the land, its waterways, its wildlife and its residents. My goal is to improve understanding of the issues, to find hope and to help all of us navigate the future of our environment. 

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