Supervisors select Sonoma Valley campus to take homeless residents from Santa Rosa trail camp
Sonoma County supervisors on Tuesday voted to relocate dozens of residents in the sprawling homeless camp in west Santa Rosa to county land on the east side of the city, across from the Oakmont senior community, setting up a showdown with vocal neighbors who fiercely objected to the move.
Board Chairwoman Susan Gorin, who represents eastern Sonoma County, including Oakmont, was adamantly opposed to use of the Los Guilicos juvenile justice campus off Highway 12 for a temporary shelter.
But she was outflanked 4-1, as the board majority, led by supervisors Lynda Hopkins and Shirlee Zane, voted to place in Gorin’s district the county’s lone sanctioned homeless camp.
“We have to make a decision today,” Hopkins said at the beginning of the board session, describing in dark terms the human suffering that’s rippled out from the growing Joe Rodota Trail camp in her district. “Or it will be another month of trench foot, fires and fear.”
The replacement camp will sit on the northern end of Sonoma Valley across from the affluent Oakmont community, about 9 ?miles from the heart of the trail camp in central Santa Rosa.
Within the next two weeks, up to 60 of the more than 220 ?campers will be transported to the Los Guilicos site, which will offer meals, services and shelter in 30 fabricated aluminum units.
The move represents the most immediate step to relocate residents of the swelling encampment that now stretches along 2 miles of the Joe Rodota Trail connecting Santa Rosa and Sebastopol.
In recent months, it has become the scene of repeated fires, drug and human waste problems and a burgeoning rat infestation - amounting to a public health crisis and what Hopkins previously called an “epicenter for lawlessness.”
County officials began providing notice Sunday to trail residents of plans to clear the camp, marking Jan. 31 as the deadline. To legally displace the campers, however, the county must provide sufficient replacement shelter, and even after Tuesday it appears to be short.
It has 60 available shelter beds, 60 spaces at the sanctioned camp, and up to 24 beds at two properties the Board of Supervisors formally acted to purchase on Tuesday, at a cost of more than $2 million.
Meanwhile, 223 tents stood Tuesday along the paved county path between Dutton Avenue and Wright Road, with many larger sites home to multiple campers.
Nearby neighborhoods, from the Roseland Mobile Home Park to the Courtside Village, have closed off access to the trail with fencing, padlocks and even razor wire.
Neighbors in the area have complained of theft, fire and other nuisances. They have for weeks demanded more urgent action, ramping up pressure even after county leaders advanced Dec. 23 a $12 million package of short- and long-term housing options, most of which will take months to roll out.
Michael Hurley said he lives close to the trail and used to walk along it with his kids.
“I can’t do that anymore,” he said. “We need to do something, and it should be done as quickly as possible.”
Some trail residents said Tuesday they would be open to moving.
Brenda LaRose, who has lived at the trail for the past month, said she’d heard about the county’s plans to clear the encampment, saying she would support the move if it came with structure and safety.
Kellie Jones, who sat petting her dog, a fawn-colored pitbull named Scooby, said she hadn’t heard about the county’s plans to clear the trail.
“Instead of doing that, they should find some housing for people who want to be housed, instead of moving us to a different location,” Jones said.
The pressure has centered mostly on the county, which owns the trail within Santa Rosa city limits. Supervisor David Rabbitt wanted to know whether the city of Santa Rosa, which has police jurisdiction over the trail, had offered any city-owned property to help - or whether county staff had even asked for it.
“No,” county General Services Director Caroline Judy answered to both questions.
Supervisors were set to consider two remaining options Tuesday for a sanctioned camp, both on county-owned property: the Los Guilicos campus on the eastern side of Highway 12 in the shadow of the Mayacamas Mountains, and a piece of vacant land on the county government campus in Santa Rosa.
But Zane, the county’s longest-serving incumbent, shot down the latter site, which sits in her central Santa Rosa district and abuts a pre-school for at-risk kids.
“I know we’ve been asking you to act fast, but this is the most inappropriate site to have next to a daycare and a preschool,” said Zane, who faces an election battle in March.
It was the third time in three months that Zane, a champion of spending on social services, had successfully scuttled a plan to house or shelter homeless people in her district.