Details of the proposed transient ‘safe parking’ ‘village’ concept for downtown Sebastopol

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

What is appropriate and needed for the current transient street parking situation within Sebastopol city limits is the enforcement of existing laws, implementation of RV parking permits and to reinstate the Morris Street bicycle path. 

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.

In 2019 Sonoma County was on the right track, now they are just outsourcing to non profits as the problems increase

6 replies on “Details of the proposed transient ‘safe parking’ ‘village’ concept for downtown Sebastopol”

I propose that each County have a permanent funded homeless site.
I would like to see the return of the state institutions for the disabled.
We need to give up our local control and create a system that provides provides
Coordinated care for people that can’t cate for themselves.
We rely on prisons, but the system can no longer deal with the problem.
I agree that our tax dollars are being squandered because the lack of coordination between agencies.

Hear! Hear! Couldn’t agree more. The quality of life in Sebastopol has gone down because of this problem and Sebastopol’s inability to get transients off our streets. I will write to the City Council and Linda Hopkins.

The Morris Street encampment is dangerous. It is affecting the people who visit the park, due to their fear of being confronted, followed or yelled at.. You cannot get by all the trash and discarded items on the sidewalk when you leave the park. There is no sidewalk in the other side of Morris Street. You cannot see cars coming down Morris toward the Community Center because RV’s block the view of the driver turning left out of the park. Businesses on the other side of Morris have been affected. Some people will no longer frequent them. The health hazard is major. Buckets of feces are left outside an RV or a car. Feces is dumped in the sewer across the street. Sani-huts are overflowing with garbage and various other unspeakable things. Drugs are used and sold. Where do you suppose grey water is dumped? Dogs belonging to people in this encampment are let out onto the road. Spoiled food is left on the sidewalk. The bike path cannot be used because the RV’s are parked in it.

Now why would a person, or people who care about this town, vote to make this a residence for a year?

Is it proposed that “No 24 hour parking: be initiated on Morris and other nearby streets if the Park opens? That is to make the streets unavailable for camping? Curious. As to the existing Morris Street, I donot like anyone taking over public space and excluding others. That is now happening there. And, a wheelchair should be able to pass through unimpeded. This latter point is overarching to me.

The city council is, once again, cow-towing to other state (think the proposed Woodmark debacle) or, here, county entities. This is another debacle – one that has denigrated Sebastopol living for far too long already. This is a dangerous proposal. It is time for Sebastopol residents to take control of our town, our safety. Providing an RV park for a transient demographic has already been horrific for our us. Have you tried walking on Morris and circumventing the trash, the bags of feces, the threats ??? Stop these horrific impositions on our town. Now! Where are our representatives? Where have they been?? It’s time to stop these “adventures in self destructive ideas designed to destroy our fair town.”’ Time is now. Enough is enough.

It seems there are two components to the Morris Street issue:

1. RVs and unhoused folks are currently living on Morris Street resulting in valid community concerns about safety; welfare; the Laguna; garbage; drugs; mental health issues; community access to parks; bike and wheelchair impacts; our youth; and a variety of other issues.
2. The City of Sebastopol is trying to figure out how to respond to this situation, factoring in a lot of different considerations. They’re doing this at a time when there is growing homelessness in our state; homelessness that is now affecting our community and residents in a highly visible way. The City Council has proposed one solution: the SAVS safe parking proposal, currently targeted for the parking lot behind Wischemann Hall, although other sites are being explored.

Given the city can’t evict folks living in RVs and tents without providing alternative places to live (please correct me if the law has been changed), I’m unclear what options exist to clean up Morris Street beyond the SAVS proposal currently being explored by the council. This will move those living informally on Morris to a contained and managed parcel, with services to help folks find permanent housing.

With a 12-month timeframe, it could address immediate concerns within the community while helping those needing assistance. And during that period, some of the ideas Mr. Marks has suggested could be explored, recognizing we need county coordination on the issue.

There are a number of valid questions about the current proposal, including: Is this an acceptable location? How do you ensure Morris Street doesn’t simply fill up with more RVs once the current occupants are moved?

If the proposed 12-month SAVS solution isn’t approved in some form, has an alternative option been presented that will address the situation quickly and satisfy the issues raised above? If not, doesn’t that mean those living in RVs on Morris will simply remain, and continue to live as they are? Into the winter? Without any oversight?

Unless I’m missing something—please help me out here if I am—a NO on the SAVS temporary parking proposal means Morris Street will simply continue “as is.”

Thank you Mr. Marks for your contributions to keeping our community informed.

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