The fire-ravaged Journey’s End mobile home park will not reopen, but its owner is seeking to partner with a developer to build an apartment complex on the north Santa Rosa property, residents learned this weekend.
The family that owns the 13.5-acre site at Mendocino Avenue and Fountaingrove Parkway is working with nonprofit Burbank Housing to explore the feasibility of redeveloping the property into a mixture of affordable and market-rate apartments, Burbank chief executive officer Larry Florin said Sunday.
“We see this as an opportunity to preserve affordable housing but also to create something more permanent,” Florin said. “There’s a housing crisis, obviously, in Sonoma County.”
The decision not to rebuild throws former residents into another bout of uncertainty, with the hope of someday returning to their economical, tight-knit community now gone.
The mobile home park, a refuge for low-income and senior residents for nearly 60 years, has remained closed since the October wildfires. The Tubbs fire destroyed nearly three quarters of the 160 coaches on the property, killed two of its residents, incinerated its electrical and gas systems and irreparably contaminated the well supplying water to the community.
After four months with little communication from the family that owns the property, co-owner Ramsey Shuayto told residents Saturday it was prohibitively expensive to rebuild the park. He delivered the decision at a somber and at times tearful meeting with about 75 residents, local government leaders and lawyers from nonprofit legal assistance groups, including Legal Aid of Sonoma County, at the city’s Steele Lane Community Center. Shuayto didn’t respond to several phone messages Sunday.
But those who attended the meeting said he described the options his family considered, including at least one lucrative offer from an entity interested in buying the land, and how they decided, at least for now, against selling because they wanted to ensure any new housing would be affordable.
Several residents said they left the meeting with more questions than answers, and a newfound fear of the future. A housing development project could take years, too long for some of the community’s most elderly neighbors. For others, the financial toll of losing a secure home with low market value is formidable.
“What are we going to do when the FEMA benefits are no longer available?” said Yvonne Rawhouser, a retired hairdresser who lived in her three-bedroom, two-bath home at Journey’s End for 30 years. Rawhouser said she had a small savings account and zero debt before the fires, but her financial security is now gone.
She is among residents of the 44 coaches still standing, red-tagged and uninhabitable without utilities, who are facing additional uncertainty with no prospect of ever living in their homes again. Some have said they’ve been unable to get the type of assistance available to fire victims because they still have homes, although they cannot live in them.
“I feel so not-in-control of my future,” said James Blair Robinson, 70, whose single-wide coach was damaged but not destroyed by fire.
Florin said Burbank Housing is in the process of formalizing a legal arrangement with Shuayto and his family. He hopes they will end up with a long-term lease so they can pursue financing for a redevelopment plan for the site.
The goal would be to build at least 160 affordable units — which would be offered to Journey’s End residents first — and possibly more affordable and market-rate units, Florin said.
How to help Operation Superhero
Operation Superhero needs:
• Costumes. Preferably new costumes. Costumes in good condition without tears or dirty stains are OK.
• Local businesses and locations where people can drop off costumes.
• Locations for people to pick up costumes.
• Various donation, including racks and hangers.
• Volunteers to sort costumes.
For more information on how to help, visit the Operation Superhero Sonoma County’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/groups/operationsuperherosonomacounty.