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Sonoma County’s sanctioned homeless camp hits red tape, delaying full occupation

One of Sonoma County government’s highest-ranking employees found himself digging postholes Monday afternoon. The cost of being the boss, as the saying goes.

The work was necessary for the county’s indoor-outdoor Los Guilicos homeless shelter to meet fire code requirements and continue relocation of some 60 of the most vulnerable residents of the Joe Rodota Trail homeless encampment in west Santa Rosa, officials said.

So Tennis Wick, director of Permit Sonoma, the county’s planning and building agency, dug postholes to install new signs with the official address of the camp - 7425 Rancho Los Guilicos Road.

“Los Guilicos Shelter,” read the tagline at the bottom of the large green sign. Wick, 59, texted a picture, offering a tagline of his own:

“Who says no country for old men?”

The problems cropped up last week on several fronts. They related to electricity for the warming tent, siting for the propane supply and the size of letters on the sign showing the address for the camp.

Also, all the 64-square-foot shelter units are required to have fire sprinklers, and if they do not, around-the-clock fire surveillance in mandatory.

Santa Rosa Assistant Fire Marshal Paul Lowenthal said his team was called to inspect the site Friday, but both fire officials and county staff determined it wasn’t ready to go.

Wick called the appointment a communication failure on the county’s part, as staff members knew the camp wasn’t ready to pass inspection, he said.

Lowenthal said Monday that by Saturday conditions were met to let 10 of the 60 units open.

Another 20 units were approved for occupation Monday afternoon, and the site added 14 people, equating to a total of 23 people. The county deadline for clearing the trail is Friday and the encampment continues to grow, compounding efforts to address health and safety issues.

For Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, who has pushed for quicker shelter solutions, the squalid conditions at the trail should have resulted in greater government flexibility at the sanctioned site across town. The sanctioned camp has risen on a little-used parking lot on the southwest corner of the county’s Los Guilicos campus, across from the Oakmont senior community.

“What’s not understandable is that government has an inability to be flexible,” Hopkins said. “How code compliant is the Joe Rodota Trail? I would hope we’re able to work with the Santa Rosa Fire Department to recognize (Los Guilicos) is a step up from the Joe Rodota Trail.”

The Board of Supervisors selected the Los Guilicos location in a 4-1 vote Jan. 14, three weeks after approving nearly $12 million for a slate of short- and long-term housing options meant to help relocate residents of the trail camp. Of that allocation, $2 million was dedicated to the temporary Los Guilicos camp, which officials say will be closed by April 30.

The money for the camp covered the 60 individual shelters, at $4,500 apiece, as well as a contract with the nonprofit Society of St. Vincent de Paul to manage the camp, which is fenced and has limited access as well as hourly shuttle service for residents. A variety of social services will be available for camp residents, officials said.

St. Vincent de Paul will be required to staff a nurse on-site, at an extra charge for the county.

“We had to create a code-compliant city in two weeks. That’s hard,” said Jack Tibbetts, a Santa Rosa councilman and executive director of St. Vincent de Paul.

Hopkins commended county staff members, including department heads like Wick, for coming together to get the site ready to go.

“We started designing this thing seven days ago,” Wick said. “Our team was literally drafting it, cost estimating it, and now the same people are out as part of the construction team. And they’re even making the old man permit director sink 4-by-4 posts for the entrance sign.”

You can reach Staff Writer Tyler Silvy at 707-526-8667 or at tyler.silvy@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @tylersilvy.

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