Subscribe

Supervisors select Sonoma Valley campus to take homeless residents from Santa Rosa trail camp

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Subscribe

For more stories on Sonoma County's homeless crisis, go here.

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 northern end of Sonoma Valley across from the affluent Oakmont community, about nine 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 two 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 any more,” 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.

For more stories on Sonoma County's homeless crisis, go here.

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. This week, she also helped scrap the purchase of a $999,000 home in the West End neighborhood to house trail residents, and in December she lobbied successfully to shelve a plan to shelter homeless people at the county fairgrounds.

Just last week, officials ditched another potential sanctioned camp location near the county airport following public revelations the site, a chemical warfare training ground tied to the former Santa Rosa Army Airfield, contained unexploded mustard gas canisters dating back to World War II and would require an extensive environmental review.

After Hopkins moved to recommend the Los Guilicos site on Tuesday, and Zane quickly endorsed her motion, Gorin was left isolated on the board. She warned county staff and fellow supervisors of the criticism that would be unleashed should they settle on the Sonoma Valley site.

“The community backlash will blow the roof off,” said Gorin, who like Hopkins and Zane, is running for reelection in March.

Gorin said any final selection needed to be unanimous while calling for consideration of other sites outside of her district. She was even willing to break the county’s self-imposed Jan. 31 deadline for clearing the trail.

“The fear factor is palpable,” Gorin said, referring to neighbors’ concerns about rampant drug and alcohol abuse within the population of trail campers. More than 60% have been diagnosed with physical or mental health conditions, according to a county survey.

“I want to make this choice very carefully,” Gorin said. “I want to find an option that all the board can support, even if it takes an extra week.”

But her fellow supervisors weren’t persuaded. They also balked at ordering staff to answer every email from concerned neighbors about the new sanctioned camp and rejected Gorin’s request for 24-hour site security provided by the Sheriff’s Office.

A meeting with Oakmont community members is scheduled for Thursday, and Gorin predicted “100% opposition.” A time and location for the meeting hadn’t been set.

“This is a lousy decision, and we’re picking the better of two lousy choices,” said Supervisor David Rabbitt. “It’s not staff’s fault. This is a city of Santa Rosa and a county of Sonoma issue, and there’s only one jurisdiction that’s doing anything.”

Minutes later, Gorin struggled as she read aloud the legal description of the county’s actions, her voice seeming to catch as she cleared her throat several times.

Zane, a clear victor on the day, paced in the background before offering the chairwoman a cup of water and a pat on the shoulder.

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

Show Comment

Our Network

Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Emerald Report
Spirited Magazine