Sonoma County drops bid to buy Santa Rosa house for homeless trail residents

Sonoma County officials won’t buy a Santa Rosa home that had been targeted to house up to 10 people living at the sprawling Joe Rodota Trail homeless camp, a proposal that had riled West End neighbors and led their county supervisor - Shirlee Zane - to say she wouldn’t support the purchase.

The setback comes as the county has posted official ‘relocation’ notices along the trail, giving its 220 residents until Jan. 31 to move out.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday is set to consider outdoor shelter and housing options that could offer alternative living space for 80 to 140 people. But the $999,000 home on Davis Street, alongside Highway 101 between 10th and 9th streets, won’t be part of that package, a decision made behind closed doors by the Board of Supervisors on Monday.

“The West End, again, they have been bombarded with homeless issues,” Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane said in a Sunday evening phone interview.

County officials said public pressure played no role in their decision to scrap the West End purchase. But among three homes the county said last week that it wanted to buy to temporarily house Joe Rodota Trail residents - at a total cost of $3.14 million - the Davis Street house faced the loudest opposition.

“These types of ignorant actions will make finding lasting change impossible. Please let me know if this is how you want to be remembered?” West End resident Allen Thomas wrote to Zane and the Santa Rosa City Council on Friday.

The county is proceeding with its purchase of the other two homes, on Sonoma Avenue in Santa Rosa and Arthur Street in Cotati.

A final vote will occur Tuesday, when the Board of Supervisors also is set to decide on potential sanctioned homeless camps on the county government complex in Santa Rosa and on the Los Guilicos campus in Sonoma Valley across from Oakmont.

The county stepback comes amid mounting state pressure for cities and counties to address the statewide crisis.

A homeless task force appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday released recommendations that the state pursue a constitutional amendment requiring all cities and counties to provide enough housing or shelter to accommodate every homeless person.

Such an amendment is a long shot to reach the ballot, requiring nearly 1 million signatures or a two-thirds vote of the legislature.

Last month, Sonoma County supervisors approved nearly $12 million to support a number of short- and longer-term housing options for trail camp residents, including $5.5 million to buy six large houses that would serve up to 60 trail residents.

The Davis Street house, a seven-bedroom, three-bathroom home, drew ire from some West End neighbors neighborhood concerned the area was overrun with existing services for the homeless population and others in need.

Those hubs include Redwood Gospel Mission on 6th Street; Catholic Charities’ Homeless Services Center, on Morgan Street; and St. Vincent de Paul Society on Wilson Street.

But the county said the decision to pull back from the Davis Street property came “as a result of our due diligence, which includes concerns with an appraisal,” according to a post on the county’s Facebook page.

Details weren’t immediately available on problems with the appraisal, but Jeff Schween, a real estate agent with Compass Real Estate, said it’s more likely than not that the two sides couldn’t agree on a price, as the only other source of conflict with an appraisal comes from a bank lending money to a potential buyer - something that wouldn’t be an issue with the county poised to pay cash.

Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Susan Gorin offered another reason in a Monday interview, saying the concerns centered on the inspection.

“We determined it’s not in our financial interest to move forward,” Gorin said, adding that the decision wasn’t related to neighbor feedback.

“They went through the house and found challenges with construction and tenant improvements ... it would cost too much money to correct.”

Schween said he has followed the developments closely and was not surprised an inspection may have turned up problems, given the age of the homes. The Davis Street house was built in 1900.

The Sonoma Avenue and the house in Cotati, both built in the early 1900s, didn’t raise similar red flags.

To use the homes as the county envisions, county staff will spend up to $50,000 on furniture and have banked another $500,000 to relocate current tenants - another consequence of the purchase that has elicited public criticism.

Officials said they were aware of the apparent conflict - displacing one group of people to house another.

“Should the county elect to exercise its right as the property owner to relocate any occupants, the county will abide by all applicable laws and requirements, including any applicable landlord-tenant and/or relocation assistance obligations,” the County Counsel’s Office said in a statement.

Depending on various factors, the county would have to provide anywhere from three days to 60 days notice before evicting current tenants.

The county was already under contract to buy the Davis Street home.

It was not immediately clear how much money, if any, the county would forfeit from dropping its purchase bid.

Not all neighbors were against the purchase. Sandee Huskey, 68, has lived near the Davis Street property for 30 years. She said she’s aware of some of her neighbors’ feelings and fears, but she said the homeless crisis on the trail has gone on too long.

“These people need a place to go,” she said Friday. “And if that’s going to help, I’m OK with it.”

Staff Writer Chantelle Lee contributed to this report.

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