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Santa Rosa issues code enforcement order to disband homeless camp on private property, but no timeline for clearing the site

Santa Rosa has issued an enforcement order to compel the owner of two empty lots on which as many as 100 unhoused people have camped to clear the site or risk facing tens of thousands of dollars in fines.

But it's unclear when the long-standing tent and vehicle encampment that has frustrated neighbors in the southwest part of the city will be cleared.

Because the camp is on private property, city officials maintain they need the owner’s cooperation to safely remove people and vehicles from the adjacent lots and clean up trash and debris.

Until recently, that owner, a Clovis-based housing developer, had shown little interest in resolving issues at the site, city officials said. Since 2018, Affordable Housing Development Corp. had remained largely unresponsive to a succession of enforcement notices and orders to fix code violations at the properties at 2384 and 2410 Old Stony Point Road, according to officials.

That changed with a code enforcement hearing in February that could lead to over $100,000 in fines and fees for the company.

City officials say they are now working closely with the developer on a plan to disband the camp, clean up the site and erect a barrier around the perimeter of the lots to prevent campers from returning.

“We are very happy and pleased with the collaborative effort that the owners have put forth with the city,” said Chief Building Official Jesse Oswald.

The process for disbanding the camp, however, won’t start until the city and property owner get approval from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to put up a fence around the lots.

The agency has requested information about the environmental impacts of a fence, which would border the ecologically sensitive Roseland Creek. And there is no clear timeline for when Fish and Wildlife will approve the plans, city officials said.

Luz Calderon, a general manager in charge of the two properties for the developer, could not be reached for comment.

Following the February hearing, a city enforcement hearing officer issued a order that could require Affordable Housing Development Corp. to pay around $100,000 in initial penalties and administrative costs.

The order, issued March 15, could also force the company to pay up to $5,000 in daily fines going back to April 10. If the city begins imposing the penalties, the fines could continue until the camp is cleared, an environmental restoration plan is in place and all code violations are fixed.

In recent months, the city’s homeless outreach team, run by the nonprofit Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa, has ramped up visits to the site to connect camp residents with services, said Kelli Kuykendall, the city’s homeless services manager.

Kuykendall said the city aims to offer everyone living there shelter or housing, even though officials are under no legal obligation to do so because the camp isn’t on public property.

Local homeless advocates, though, say such outreach efforts are failing to meet the needs of unhoused people and contend sweeps accomplish little except pushing camps from one part of the city to another.

“It’s not whether you have the legal right, it’s whether you have a moral right,” said Heather Jackson, an advocate with Sonoma County Acts of Kindness.

Part of the problem for officials is Sonoma County only has shelter beds for about a third of its homeless population of around 2,700, over half of whom live in Santa Rosa. And despite the tens of millions of dollars being spent to create hundreds of units of short- and long-term supportive housing, that still won’t be anywhere near enough for everyone on the street.

Even when beds do become available, homeless people often turn them down for a variety of reasons, ranging from health and safety concerns to a reluctance to follow curfews and other rules. Some also may have mental health or mood disorders that make it difficult to live in close quarters with others.

Earlier this month, Santa Rosa police warned residents of a 70-person encampment on a former Shamrock Materials lot near the Joe Rodota Trail to leave or be cited for trespassing.

By the time the property owner erected a fence around the lot at 285 Roberts Ave. on April 19, most campers had already left, according to Sgt. Josh Ludtke.

The city outreach team placed 10 camp residents in shelter and four at the city’s recently opened safe parking site near the Finley Community Center, officials said.

On April 15, the county closed its temporary shelter site at the Holiday Inn in Windsor for homeless people at high risk for COVID-19 complications. County officials had extended operations at the site by a month after they were unable to find new housing or shelter for dozens of hotel residents by the original March 15 deadline to end the program.

Tina Rivera, director of the county health department, had promised that no one would be left out on the street after the closure. But the county, last week, was unable to say how many residents at the Holiday Inn had moved into housing or group shelters.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to more accurately describe the fees and penalties in the code enforcement order.

You can reach Staff Writer Ethan Varian at ethan.varian@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5412. On Twitter @ethanvarian.

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