Fountaingrove residents ask for increased patrols as more teens flock to ‘top of the world’

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

Linda Dias’ living room window provides the perfect panoramic view of Sonoma County.

During the day, she can make out Fountaingrove Lake and much of Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park from her home perched on top of Skyfarm Drive in Fountaingrove. Sunsets are unobstructed, with the skyline defined by distant rolling hills in west county. It was the same view that led her parents, both real estate brokers, to buy the house 19 years ago.

Her father, a former recreational pilot who was permanently grounded after a heart attack, was especially fond of the vista, as it reminded him of being airborne, said Dias, who moved into the home after the October 2017 wildfires destroyed her own.

“He wanted a new house in his older age and loved the view,” Dias said of her father, who died months before the fires. “He loved looking at the clouds.”

Her father wasn’t the first to take notice of the spectacular view from the street, as Sonoma County youth have passed down a tradition of visiting the area at sundown for decades, locals say. Its expansive views have led teens to dub the area as the “top of the world.”

But the destruction of nearly every home on Skyfarm Drive from the 2017 firestorm has resulted in an increase in visitors, including teens coming in larger numbers late at night, Dias and other homeowners who are rebuilding said. They said the problem has been compounded by the number of unattended empty lots and homes under construction, some that have been broken into or vandalized overnight while construction crews are away.

Dias estimates she and her family have called the Santa Rosa Police Department about visitors at least three dozen times during their two-year stay. Her neighbors say they’re seeing more trash and have heard cars racing in the area, a new occurrence since the fires.

Neighbors have gone to police and local officials to ask for increased patrols in the area in recent months, a topic reinvigorated late last month when a Santa Rosa teen died in a fatal crash at Skyfarm Drive and Thomas Lake Harris Drive. The July 1 crash injured the teen’s friend and led to vehicular manslaughter charges for the 16-year-old driver.

The three Maria Carrillo students had been hanging out at the “top of the world” prior to the crash. As they headed down the hill, the driver blew through a stop sign at the intersection, possibly while driving over the speed limit, police said.

“It’s upsetting to me and my son, and all of us,” Dias said of the crash. “I feel like the police should have been up here shooing these kids away.”

Santa Rosa Police Capt. John Cregan said the department instructed officers who patrol the area to check on the neighborhood between other calls after listening to residents’ concerns during two public meetings, one held by the county in April and the other by the city in May. Residents told officers they were seeing unoccupied homes and properties vandalized, as well as people leaving behind trash and trespassing on sites under construction.

Officers in the last two months conducted 57 calls for service to the neighborhood that includes Fountaingrove Parkway and Thomas Lake Harris, Skyfarm and Cross Creek, Cregan said. More than half of those calls were initiated by officers, who did proactive security checks of home and properties, as well as traffic stops of suspicious vehicles.

Officers have long known about the area as a hangout spot for teens and young adults, though complaints from neighbors have historically involved reports of minor offenses, such as marijuana use or underage drinking, Cregan said.

For Santa Rosa resident Peyton Krzyzek, 18, visits to the lookout point represent a rite of passage for teens. It’s a place where she has shared some of the most meaningful conversations with friends since learning about the spot during her junior year at Santa Rosa High, she said.

She enjoys watching from the hilltop as the community rebuilds from the wildfires. She sympathizes with homeowners who are dealing with rowdy visitors and trespassers. Although she’s aware that some of her peers go to the area to drink or party, Krzyzek said she and her friends are among those who don’t drink and simply visit the neighborhood to enjoy the view.

“I don’t try to go into people’s backyards or if they’re rebuilding a new house,” Krzyzek said. “We don’t want that spot taken away from us, so we try to keep it as peaceful as possible.”

While police do not want wildfire survivors to be “re-victimized” by unwanted visitors, officers need to respond to a variety of other calls throughout the city, some that are of higher priority, Cregan said.

“We understand their concerns, and we are pledging to make sure that an officer responds to any calls in the area and takes whatever action is necessary,” he said. “I think the key word for us is balance. Balancing the calls for service in the city and balancing the resources we have.”

Santa Rosa Councilwoman Victoria Fleming spearheaded the May meeting attended by Santa Rosa Police after hearing from multiple Fountaingrove residents who were concerned about crime in the area as they rebuild. They told her about cars speeding through the streets and people stealing construction supplies, among other issues, she said.

The scenario was one city officials saw about a year ago in Coffey Park, as more residents began repopulating the neighborhood after the fires, Fleming said. She hopes Fountaingrove will regain a sense of normalcy as more homes are rebuilt and occupied again.

“I can’t image how difficult it is to move back in and then deal with this type of insecurity around folks coming into the area who shouldn’t be there,” Fleming said. “We do hear their concerns and the city with their limited resources are trying to respond to them.”

David Berry, a 2017 wildfire survivor who is rebuilding his home, said he became alarmed when someone tore a hole through a door leading into his garage the night after the July 1 fatal crash. Construction crews found a vodka bottle in a garbage can and multiple footprints. Police sent an evidence technician to the home, though he said he was told there was very little that could be done.

“I felt violated. I felt scared,” Berry said. “I didn’t want this house to be hurt. It’s a symbol of recovery for our family.”

He moved into the home with his family in 2010, but had never called police to report unwanted visitors on his street prior to the fires, as they typically came in small groups and were not disruptive, he said. That changed earlier this year, when he called officers after seeing multiple cars drive onto a neighbor’s empty lot near sunset, he said.

Berry said the area is a “recipe for disaster,” in part because of the heavy construction at several properties.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets.

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