Non Profit Sonoma Applied Villages Services would like to borrow City of Sebastopol land for one year adjacent to various Sebastopol civic amenities and tourist revenue generating sites.
The ‘safe parking’ transient vehicle parking ‘village’ concept is partially grant funded by Sonoma County Continuum of Care (CoC) and they claim to also be looking at other sites if this idea falls through.
Sonoma Applied Village Services hope to raise more money to complete the funding for this idea and have been given a deadline of early December to use the CoC grant or lose it.
- There are multiple reasons the Sebastopol community center site is not fit for purpose for this SAVS project:
- Proposed site is a flood plain with recent histories of rapid water level rises (Park Village also flooded in 2019 with some residents evacuated by boat by the Sebastopol Fire Department.). Typical reaction and actioning of city emergency evacuation plans for this area is approximately five hours. The laguna water levels rise very rapidly. There is currently no plan for where RVs and other parked vehicles would go to evacuate to higher ground, assuming they are operational and moveable. Towing out vehicles as water levels rise to an unknown destination is not practical.
- Area is a major fire risk in summer months when the laguna undergrowth is tinder dry. An encampment sweep was held in October 2021 to clear laguna transient encampments primarily to prevent these risks and damage to the laguna.
Year round, packing vehicles closely together in this proposed ‘village’ area invites a major fire event spreading across multiple vehicles, based on recent past fires at Park Village and on Morris Street, which could quickly spread to the adjacent Green Acre school and Wischemann hall structures.
The ensuing lawsuits could envelop Sebastopol City Council for years, especially if fires and/or drownings involve injuries and deaths on city land.
- Not an appropriate civic site for substance abuse suffers, mentally ill & transient parking, given existing citizen rights and tax payer use of adjacent local facilities, which are incompatible and could expose children and visitors to additional inappropriate activities, sights and sounds to add to the regular disturbances already being endured in this area.
(The community center was recently without water for a week after transients cracked open the water main attempting to obtain water supplies, and there are serious vandalism, graffiti, pollution and narcotics use hazardous waste issues in this area).
- Incomplete funding, no long term funding in place, meaning City of Sebastopol will potentially be saddled with cost overheads and overruns, may have legal difficulties requesting the camp is closed after 12 months dues to current California Martin v. City of Boise case law rights and complications.
- This concept is only advantageous to Sonoma County, who are failing to provide adequate facilities for transients and the homeless, and to the SAVS non profit business model, but does nothing to ease the burden of transient street parking in Sebastopol.
- Use of site is not contingent on any sobriety guarantees, or local origins of users.
- If this project is voted in by Sebastopol City Council, this will mean the entire eastern border of the city will now provide free street living space funded by the city. From Park Village within Tomodachi Park (Laguna de Santa Rosa Wetlands Preserve), every east side parking space on Morris street to the north across highway 12 is occupied by transient caravans, RVs and cars …and now the addition of a new densely packed ‘RV village‘ to the north of that, in the middle of the city’s main citizen recreational facilities.
Laguna Parkway to the east off Morris is also heavily occupied by similar vehicles, while Ives Park and other local recreational areas have RVs parked next to children’s playgrounds and other city facilities.
Additionally, this time last year Sonoma County confiscated the Sebastopol Inn at Gravenstein Station using covid 19 federal economic relief money repurposed by the state of California to buy hotels under ‘project Homekey’. That land is now wholly owned by the county who are currently spending $55,000 a month for armed guards to protect the 27 people currently living in the hotel rooms.
Significant sums are being spent monthly for DEMA to run the facility.
Sebastopol City Council had no say in the commandeering of this land and property by the various county bureaucracies.
Solutions to the rapidly increasing county transient vehicle accommodation
Pressure on the county and our board of supervisors is urgently needed to get a coherent strategy and action plan in place and actioned. The CoC & CDC need to demonstrate they can actually do their job and organize triaged help at the scale needed for the three main categories of transients: substance abuse, mentally ill and indigent at separate campuses with appropriate services for their needs on county land and infrastructure.
There is no reason for City of Sebastopol to proceed with yet another informally funded short term band aid fix for the massive California wide transient migration problem. The city has already contributed a disproportionate amount of land, effort and money to a poorly organized state and county problem.
This is not a viable long term solution and ignores the massive – and increasing – problem involving thousands of people with disparate major issues all lumped together under the terms ‘homeless’ and ‘unhoused’.
Sonoma County has plenty of land and infrastructure that could be quickly repurposed to triage the serious societal issues we are experiencing, but sadly the easier solution for our supervisors and bureaucracy is to outsource the hard work to non profits, who then exploit and piggyback onto existing Sonoma incorporated county city resources to achieve their goals instead of the county building out scale resources and services as they should be doing.
We are seeing this across the county, particularly in Santa Rosa and now increasingly in Sebastopol.
Lax past City of Sebastopol policies around street camping have arguably resulted in a magnet effect for transients, and is having a very negative impact on tourism and quality of life on the eastern side of Sebastopol as we emerge from the pandemic and start to rebuild our local economy.
Focus is therefore needed to pressure City of Sebastopol county supervisor Hopkins to find sites where SAVS can experiment with their safe parking idea on existing unused county acreage and infrastructure.
There are many examples nationwide of the tiny homes concept working very well. Sonoma Applied Villages are doing a great job as a non profit promoting this idea but it is not appropriate for a small city like Sebastopol when there are many better locations within the county at scale.
The SAVS request to borrow Sebastopol downtown land and infrastructure for 12 months should not be voted in by the 5 council members due to the both legal and practical realities outlined above, which could jeopardize city funding, legal risks and the safety and well being of the city’s citizens and job providers.