Santa Rosa inspectors documented 39 code violations at former Gold Coin motel

City officials scheduled the visit in January after a Press Democrat investigation into the former Gold Coin motel raised questions about living conditions at the property.|

A city building inspection of the former Gold Coin motel in Santa Rosa triggered by Press Democrat inquiries into conditions at the property found 39 code violations related to mold, broken heaters and other health and maintenance issues.

The nonprofit St. Vincent de Paul of Sonoma County, which bought the dilapidated motel in 2019, plans to convert the property into a 54-unit permanent supportive housing facility with wraparound services for homeless people.

Residents at the property said Friday there’s been steady maintenance work at the complex since the Jan. 28 inspection. While workers have been making a variety of repairs, some residents say they are still angry it’s taken two years to get action.

Resident Charlotte Packard, said she doubted any work would have been done if not for the inspection.

“They’re doing what they were told to do,” she said.

A tenants’ rights lawyer who works with Sonoma County’s homeless population said the number of violations at the former motel rooms was striking.

“When you have a little small living space and you have this number of violations, it is substantial,” said Alicia Roman with California Rural Legal Assistance. “These are bare minimum standards … this isn’t (tenants) are asking for too much.”

Nine of the 10 occupied units were inspected during the visit. Officials were unable to access the 10th because only a minor was home, city inspectors said. The most serious violations, according to inspectors, were broken heaters in all but one of the nine units.

The units were heated by portable space heaters instead, causing a fire risk.

Other problems included damaged doors and plumbing, electrical and ventilation issues. Eight of the units had violations for not having screens installed in the windows. Several of the violations appeared to involve activities by the tenants themselves: One was for smoking indoors and another was for clothes hanging on a wall heater.

Notice of Violation.pdf

A Press Democrat investigation published online Jan. 28 found that as the shelter project was repeatedly delayed, residents — who live in a handful of occupied rooms surrounded by empty and sometimes boarded up units — were left to endure substandard living conditions.

Tenants of five of the 10 occupied units at the property accused property managers of being unresponsive, an assertion St. Vincent officials have denied.

Questions by reporters about code enforcement at the property led city officials to schedule an inspection, which was conducted the same day the newspaper published the story.

On Feb. 10, the Santa Rosa planning department sent St. Vincent a notice giving the organization 30 days to fix the violations, which The Press Democrat obtained through a public records request.

Seven of the violations were in Unit 1, a two-bedroom apartment that’s home to a family of six women. Along with the broken heater, the unit had rebar across a window preventing escape, poor weather sealing and an electrical hazard in the kitchen — an oven powered by an extension cord hung on a light fixture.

One violation covered multiple problems, including a “mold/mildew” infestation and broken floor pieces. St. Vincent was directed to remove drywall and abate the mold or mildew, though an air quality test found the mold spore count was normal.

During a visit by The Press Democrat last month, reporters also documented doors that stuck and required force to open, causing the family that lived there to worry about escape during a fire. Those issues were not documented as violations by inspectors.

City officials said the nonprofit appears to be making the necessary repairs to meet the deadline next week.

St. Vincent de Paul executive director Jack Tibbetts, who served on the Santa Rosa City Council until he resigned in December, declined to comment on the violations.

St. Vincent’s board president Ron Plasse endorsed the organization’s work at the property in a phone interview Friday, saying Tibbetts and his staff were “doing a very good job and looking out to do the best thing for the people that live there.”

“We’re not talking about high-class living. We are really trying to keep them from being on the streets,” he said.

Some of the violations city inspectors documented at the property are “concerning and valid,” Plasse said. “We’re taking the steps to make sure that we’re correcting them.”

For St. Vincent, spending more funds on the occupied units was unfortunate, he said, because the planned renovation would ultimately lead to entirely new housing altogether.

“Most of the items that we’re spending money on … they’re going to be ripped out,” Plasse said.

He said he had not spoken with any property residents since The Press Democrat published its story. Tensions between St. Vincent and its tenants appeared unresolved.

“I still feel somewhat homeless,” resident Marjorie Grabb said. “I don’t feel like I have much support.”

According to an accounting Tibbetts previously gave the newspaper, the organization has raised nearly $5.4 million in a mix of county and state funds and $3.4 million in private donations to acquire and revamp the property, which it purchased for $5.65 million.

On Jan. 26, the organization applied for a $13 million grant through California’s Home Key program, which allots funds for the creation of permanent supportive housing for homeless people.

The project was not selected in the most recent round of Homekey funding but remains under review. It is one of three local projects whose applications are still being considered. St. Vincent may need to wait until the program’s next funding stage in October to learn whether it will be awarded the grant to renovate the motel.

Should the nonprofit get the Homekey money, current residents will need to apply to ensure they meet state income requirements to return to the complex after it’s converted into housing for homeless people. If they’re not accepted, St. Vincent will pay to help them find a new home, Tibbetts previously said.

St. Vincent also has hired a firm to assist with relocating residents during the remodel.

The state program requires partnership with local governments, and the Santa Rosa City Council approved St. Vincent’s bid for the money.

City Councilwoman Victoria Fleming, who represents the neighborhood where the property is located, declined to comment on The Press Democrat’s investigation or the violations but said she hoped St. Vincent succeeds.

“The finished product is a much-needed housing asset in District 4,” she said.

At the time St. Vincent acquired the motel in November 2019, code enforcement officials had “red-tagged” it, designating most units uninhabitable because of faulty electrical wiring, a lack of heating, unsanitary conditions and a “severe lack of maintenance.”

When St. Vincent took over the property, it halted code enforcement evictions of tenants as it worked to repair units to meet basic habitability requirements and lift the red tag designation.

Santa Rosa code enforcement officials had since inspected occupied units four times without finding serious violations, according to St. Vincent’s accounting. The most recent inspection was in August 2021.

The city, however, has been unable to produce records of those inspections.

Over the past two years, residents, and in at least one case, neighbors, filed complaints with city officials, according to emails, code enforcement records and interviews with residents and St. Vincent officials.

But none of those complaints rose to the level of opening a code enforcement case, city building officials told The Press Democrat.

After reading the Press Democrat investigation, Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Rogers asked City Manager Maraskeshia Smith, who joined the city in January, to review how city staff had handled oversight of the property.

Rogers said he hopes to find out why code enforcement could produce so few records about recent inspections and complaints at Gold Coin and “if that was the way we typically do it, why don’t we have that much documentation?”

He added the code enforcement process should be consistent “regardless of who is involved with the property that the complaint is against.”

You can reach Staff Writer Ethan Varian at or 707-521-5412. On Twitter @ethanvarian. You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Graham at 707-526-8667 or On Twitter @AndrewGraham88.

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