City of Sebastopol residents should join and contribute to the council meeting public comments on Zoom at the link below
Tuesday November 30th at 6pm:
Meeting ID: 850 5986 0136
REGULAR CALENDAR AGENDA ITEMS
(DISCUSSION AND/OR ACTION):
- Discussion and Consideration of Approval of Memorandum of Understanding for Pilot Program with Sonoma Applied Village Services (SAVS) to Operate a Temporary RV Village on City Owned Property (Requestor: Committee for Unhoused comprised of Mayor Glass & councillor Rich )
- Discussion of Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Redistricting Map and Consideration to Authorize Mayor to send
Letter to Sonoma County Board of Supervisors (Requestor: Mayor Glass)
Please email the council members your thoughts with a public comment for this meeting by emailing Sebastopol’s hard working City Clerk on this email address, mark your message ‘public comment’. firstname.lastname@example.org
Non profit Sonomavillages have found grant money to partially fund a ‘safe parking’ area for vehicle dwelling people, and have approached Sebastopol Council requesting usage of space adjacent to the City Community Center, Wischemann Hall, the peace gardens, Green Acre Homes and School (which providing trauma informed care for boys 6 to 20) and of course the Laguna, an important local tourist destination.
This area of Sebastopol is in a flood plain in winter and a major fire risk to the city in summer. Unlike many other cities Sebastopol currently has no parking restrictions or zoning for RV dwellers on city streets. (Ironically Sonoma County does not allow land owners to live in RVs on their own land and sanitation infrastructure but has a very confused and reactive approach to street encampments).
As we recover from the pandemic, Sebastopol’s community civic amenities are increasingly being used again. Community Center tickets have been presold as entertainment ramps up and we are now seeing tourists looking for parking to visit the Barlow and events again.
Muddled Council Thinking as Tax & Tourist Revenues have Decreased While Costs to the City Climb
Many localities have strict permit laws to limit where RVs and caravans can park without prior agreement and permissions. Here is an example of a typical tag as a result of too many people living on public streets in Fullerton in Southern California.
Sebastopol Council have failed to deal with the steady increase in the homeless encampment on Morris street and RV’s dotted around town, and even decided to provide sanitation for anyone who would like to camp on city streets and debated spending city money to repaint the white lines on Morris street for cyclists to go around the homeless encampment.
The council is now debating whether to allow a partially funded ‘homeless KOA’ downtown to add to this generous egalitarian approach with local tax payers money. There is no long term funding in place for this densely parked ‘village’ which is both susceptible to violent propane fires and a huge evacuation risk in an area which floods very rapidly.
Sebastopol’s city funded RV park had a major fire which destroyed several vehicles in September 2020. The proposed ‘safe parking’ at the Community Center will be far more tightly packed in and a far greater fire risk.
A better way forward
Sonoma County Homeless strongly approves of strategies to help people with the three primary reasons for US homeless, Substance abuse disorder, mental illness & indigency, that are well orchestrated and triaged at a county level and which use existing county owned acreage and infrastructure to guide people into recovery.
Homelessness is also sadly a rapidly growing problem as a result of the economic depression and the end of the rent moratorium, and large scale planning is urgently needed now to help the rapidly increasing numbers in need.
There are plenty of local sites, campuses and options to help substance abuse and mental health challenged people at scale owned by the county as discussed elsewhere on this website, and where tiny homes are an excellent and cost effective solution, as we have seen in many other local areas.
Sadly, last year Sonoma County removed Sebastopol’s only downtown hotel – also an important fire evacuation center – losing tax revenue and tourist visits to take advantage of state ‘homekey’ grants. The claim was that the Sebastopol Inn occupants would be infirm and over 65 and needed urgent shelter because of Covid 19. There are now currently 27 people living in the hotel rooms with security to protect them from the people of Sebastopol and other outsiders running around $50k a month and with multiple hot meals delivered daily.
This plan – like the plans to rush thorough a homeless ‘village’ next to Sebastopol’s community Center – were motivated by short term grant money, a lack of long term thinking and a total failure to plan at scale while virtue signaling to the electorate.
Sonoma County Homeless therefore recommends
-RV permits and 3 hour parking limits in busy areas such as Morris Street
-Our board of supervisors present a coherent plan to the federal Housing & Urban Development (HUD), the Continuum of Care (CoC) and Center for Disease Control (CDC) on how they will direct triage and aid the specific needs of people who are allowed to live on the streets.
– Sebastopol City Council to refocus on inbound tourism and lessen budget spends on altruistic projects the State and County should be far better organized to triage.
Hopefully this week’s city council meeting will shed light on whether this one year downtown project is credible, given flood plain realities and a budgeting calendar for multiple state funded projects that ends abruptly, with no clarity on any future funding in a major inflationary recession.
There are many more appropriate Sonoma County locations to establish long term HomeKey housing for the homeless
Any serious strategies for planning and budgeting for large scale and complex homelessness problems require detailed projections that reach out to ten and to five years. These plans need to be mindful of changing realities and open to creative solutions.
Currently project Homekey is a 2020 housing initiative and a major shift in focus by California politicians, with significant amounts of money made available for pandemic housing in motels and hotels, either rented or purchased outright.
Previous generations of California and other state efforts have bled out large amounts of money from public budgets with few success stories. This latest California effort takes advantage of federal funding to address what is now a rapidly growing housing, crime and sanitation emergency throughout the state.
While it is unlikely Sonoma County will be granted HomeKey funds to purchase the Sebastopol Inn given the multiple reasons why the location, building and scale of the solution are not fit for purpose, the need to house and care for the homeless is not going to be going away and local services, churches and volunteers continue to do compassionate care work. These sacrifices and hours of toil are laudable but are also a band aid on our growing problem.
Given the scale and diverse – often opposing – needs of the homeless (economic hardship, substance abuse, mental illness, itinerant lifestyle, physical and medical challenges…triaging is a complex issue) piecemeal warehousing of the homeless in tightly confined areas can often exacerbate problems and encourage destructive behaviors.
While funding will be more difficult to obtain for large-scale homelessness solutions, concepts such as small scale versions of the Citizens Again concept are well suited to Sonoma County’s ample land and vacant infrastructure to create tiny home communities with appropriate services and resources. Austin Texas, which has a significant homeless problem, has experimented with this approach with Community first Village.
This approach is ideal for Sonoma County and would be a credit to our serving politicians. Sadly these next two videos are also from Austin Texas 2020 and show the scale of problems if actions are not taken, much like our Joe Rodota Trail fiasco in 2019. (The author of this video cares about the homeless, click this link for one of his interviews with people living in Windsor Park Creek).
We strongly believe the path forward for Sonoma County is the Citizens Again/Community First Village approach. We cannot underemphasize the scale of the problems we face but this is the way forward, not warehousing people in downtown hotels while hurting local business communities!