Parking lot near Sonoma County airport considered for sanctioned homeless camp
It has been two weeks since Sonoma County supervisors took the biggest step yet to address the county’s largest homeless camp, on the Joe Rodota Trail in Santa Rosa, approving nearly $12 million in emergency spending on a mix of short- and long-term shelter and housing options to relocate camp residents.
But in that time, as behind-the-scenes work progresses, the outcry from a frustrated public has grown louder, with nearby residents saying the camp quagmire has become more dire.
The number of people living along the public trail has swelled to 220 — twice what was counted in October. And since late December, neighbors have been rocked by a nighttime propane tank explosion in the camp that erupted into a fire, dealt with more cases of stolen property and witnessed a rodent infestation at the camp spill over into their yards.
“Things aren’t changing. Things are getting progressively worse,” said Jon George, who lives with his wife and three kids a few houses down from the county trail.
County officials have been tight-lipped about the location of sanctioned camps or group homes they are pursuing to help clear the trail. But one leading site surfaced Monday — a parking lot near Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport that could be converted into a temporary camp for some of the trail residents.
The timeline for that move remains elusive, and it’s unclear trail residents would embrace new living options, reflecting the complexity of the problem.
Other measures, including expanded trash pickup, beefed-up security for camp residents, needle disposal sites and pest control to address the rat population have come online since Christmas, but with the camp continuing to grow, nearby residents say they’ve seen little change.
Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, who has come under intense scrutiny for the encampment in her west county district, said she has spoken daily with county staff since the Dec. 23 meeting when the Board of Supervisors approved the emergency spending.
However, the propane tank explosion Dec. 30 and the public release last Friday of infrared video from the Sheriff’s Office helicopter showing the rat infestation have only ratcheted up the pressure.
Although Hopkins praised county staff for sharing a sense of urgency, she said some of that is newfound, and the laser focus on long-term solutions in some corners has not helped.
“Months or years is not acceptable,” she said.
Supervisor James Gore said he wasn’t happy the county had to “go into crisis mode” to generate solutions, but he said some of the blame lies with elected officials.
“I have to point the finger also at us, because we had to put money on the table. That’s when things change,” Gore said.
Hopkins on Monday acknowledged a site near the airport — within Gore’s north county district — is being considered for a sanctioned camp. It is a paved parking lot north of Airport Boulevard and Ordinance Road, sandwiched between the North County Detention Facility, a county jail for low-risk inmates, and the general aviation hub and hangar complex — a gateway for the county’s jet set.
It is the top sanctioned camp choice among two that will come to Board of Supervisors at its Jan. 14 meeting. Hopkins said via text message the site would have trailers for services and showers, restrooms and hand-washing stations.