Sonoma Homeless

An Open Letter to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors

Dear Supervisors,

We have sat through two days of your rushed deliberations this week in a tightly packed but poorly organized or communicated schedule as you attempt to very quickly create an annual budget to run services on behalf of Sonoma County tax payers and residents.

September 9 2020 Sonoma County Board of Supervisors homeless service budget discussion

The long hours you have spent talking are visible for viewing via Zoom but there has been little opportunity for citizen interaction, except for ninety second sound bites which don’t appear to be taken very seriously, with no follow up or answers to speaker questions.

During Thursday you are presumably meeting off the record before reconvening on Friday to celebrate closing the books on a budget the supervisors think will work for the county and its employees, partners and contractors.

There is virtually no time to react to your conversations and small group consensus agreements, but here are some thoughts on the ‘ending homelessness’ budget expansions and utopian plans you agreed on Wednesday September 9, parts of which are embedded here.

The first law of holes
As noted elsewhere on this site there has been zero success in ‘ending homelessness’ in Sonoma County over the last few years. 3,000 people are homeless and it is clear there is no coherent plan in place, although the increased funds you are helping yourselves to by slashing budgets elsewhere will partially be used to try and figure out what you are doing for the future.

The first law of holes, or the law of holes, is an adage which states: “if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging”. Digging a hole makes it deeper and therefore harder to get out of, which is used as a metaphor that when in an untenable position, it is best to stop carrying on and exacerbating the situation.

It’s not possible to have a ‘no confidence’ vote as you are making bureaucratic decisions as a clique with no oversight or community discussion. This has been going on for years, and now that we are in the jaws of a major economic depression sadly both the homeless situation is getting more serious and so is the lack of any sort of coherent planning or consideration of other approaches .

The planned lavish spending on these vague plans fly in the face of logical ways to actually address the three main causes of homelessness: economic hardship, mental illness and substance abuse.

The idea of grabbing grants to warehouse people in hotel rooms is extremely naive and will have serious long term tax base and community ramifications in both Santa Rosa and Sebastopol, while homeless industry ‘providers’ will welcome more homeless with open arms …because that is their reason for existing.

Build it and they will come

It is well known that services provided for substance abuse itinerants act like a magnet, with the ‘RV armadas’ Supervisor Rabbit mentioned heading to Sonoma County from all over. Chico is now heading in the right direction as a community having realized this harsh reality. Supervisor Zane appears to be particularly naive on this topic despite having lived near homeless issues in Sonoma County for some time, and having presumably noticed the increase in needles, human excrement, drug dealing and criminal damage on city streets as she passes through.

The police are overwhelmed and have mostly given up on everything but serious crimes by these substance abuse altered people, who have little empathy or community spirit.

There are solutions being successfully rolled out in other states, with Houston and Austin in Texas notable examples discussed on this site.

We urge you to make public the materials requested by the chair (at 3:20 in this video) from Barbie Robinson, which will presumably form the basis for the backbone of your latest short and medium terms plans, paid for out of contingency funds, and any other plans for public discussion and comment.

Sonoma County residents deserve to be consulted on your proposed plans. Even Sebastopol City Council has no say in your acquisition of city properties with state grant money to repurpose them into homeless room houses. Even local homeless people have predicted this warehousing approach will result in the conversion of a hotel in to a ‘tweaker den’ backing on to the Joe Rodota Trail within six months

We urge you to have some humility and consider the entire community in your planning, and to study what actually works in ‘ending homelessness’, because what you have been executing so far has had little success.

Please feel free to respond in the comments section and we look forward to future dialog as a community.


Sonoma Homeless

‘Sonoma County Has a Homeless Crisis. Is There a Response Plan?’ 2019-2020 Sonoma County Civil Grand Jury Final Report

 Sonoma County Has a Homeless Crisis. 
Is There a Response Plan?

A self-initiated investigation by the 2019-2020 Sonoma County Civil Grand Jury. 

The Grand Jury interviewed 18 key leaders involved in the homelessness crisis in Sonoma County. The interviewees represented law enforcement, appointed and elected officials, governmental department heads, homeless service providers and formerly homeless individuals. 

The Grand Jury attended Board of Supervisors meetings (in person or through streaming video) when homelessness was on the agenda. Additionally, the Grand Jury obtained data from the website, including data from the many departments tasked with addressing homelessness. 


Approximately 3,000 county residents are without permanent housing each night. About 2,000 of them also have no temporary shelter. They sleep in cars, RVs, doorways, and temporary encampments under a freeway overpass, along a road, or on public property. Recent encampments include “Homeless Hill” off Farmers Lane, “Camp Michela” in Roseland, and a large collection of tents and temporary shelters along the Joe Rodota Trail. The numbers of homeless individuals have remained virtually unchanged over the last several years despite various plans to find or generate housing. Homelessness is as extreme an emergency as a natural disaster. As such, it deserves the same sense of urgency and a response of similar scope. 

When the fires of 2017 occurred, the reaction was immediate and overwhelming. An emergency response center was set up at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in a matter of days. Hundreds of first responders were housed in trailers and tents within hours. Emergency response teams such as the Red Cross connected fire victims with temporary housing immediately. Floods and fires in 2019 similarly involved large-scale evacuations and temporary shelter options. The COVID-19 pandemic prompted shelter-in-place orders, massive business shutdowns, and park closures to help ensure “social distancing.” The approximately 3,000 homeless residents require a crisis response as well. 

Homelessness does not respect political boundaries. Multiple governmental and private agencies provide services to the homeless in Sonoma County. Much of the funding for these services comes from state and federal sources and is disbursed on a year-by-year basis, making long-term planning difficult. Use of these funds must adhere to guidelines based on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development model known as Housing First, which prioritizes permanent housing over temporary shelters. The policy places the most vulnerable at the highest priority for housing. 

The greatest constraint on housing the homeless population is the lack of available accommodations of any type. There are simply not enough beds to fulfill the needs. Nevertheless, multiple plans and policies to “solve” the homelessness crisis have been adopted, with little change in the numbers of people sleeping on the street. 

Perhaps the most glaring example of the lack of adequate planning was that of the encampment on the Joe Rodota Trail in the fall of 2019. The homeless encampment grew to nearly a mile in length and at least 250 strong before public awareness and pressure dominated the news. The Board of Supervisors responded to the crisis with a hastily developed plan that committed over $12 million for various shelters and services. This occurred while under the restrictions of a legal settlement in response to the October 2018 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in the Boise case. The settlement required that homeless people displaced from encampments on public land be offered suitable shelter as well as a number of other services. Sixty (60) of the trail occupants were placed in tiny houses installed at Los Guilicos and 

approximately thirty (30) others were placed in other temporary shelters. Over 150 homeless people determined there was no viable option for them and chose to search for another spot to pitch their tents. 

Despite representing less than 10% of the county homeless population, the Joe Rodota Trail emergency resulted in a significant redistribution of homeless funding. The Joe Rodota Trail problem could have been averted had a plan been developed and implemented to provide adequate shelter options. 


The Sonoma County homeless population has remained relatively constant for the past four years. During this period, Sonoma County has struggled to address homelessness with a variety of reorganizations, leadership changes, and planning studies. These efforts have produced little change. 

During this time, the County and the City of Santa Rosa used Housing First as a model for addressing homelessness. In 2018, these governmental entities, along with the City of Petaluma created a new governing body, the Home Sonoma County Leadership Council (LC), intended to be the homelessness policy coordinating governing body for the County. The Community Development Commission (CDC) currently serves as the lead agency. In addition, the Home Sonoma County Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) was formed to serve as an advisory body to the LC. The LC began meeting in mid-2018 and disbursed $14 million in state and federal funding for homelessness-related services in 2019. On the advice of the TAC, the LC subsequently adopted a Coordinated Entry System (CES) for making assessments and decisions regarding both shelter and permanent housing. 

Finding safety and security in groups, many homeless people form encampments throughout Sonoma County. The largest and most visible of these was the Joe Rodota Trail (JRT) encampment in 2019, but many encampments had formed and disbanded in earlier years. 

Joe Rodota Trail (JRT)

Examples include “Camp Michela” in the Roseland neighborhood, “Homeless Hill” near Farmers Lane, and a sidewalk encampment in the 6th Street undercrossing of Highway 101. Other homeless encampments formed in Guerneville, Cloverdale, and Glen Ellen. 

Click here to continue reading ‘Sonoma County Has a Homeless Crisis. Is There a Response Plan?’ 2019-2020 Sonoma County Civil Grand Jury Final Report

Click Here to view 2019 Sonoma County Homeless Census Survey Comprehensive Report to compare…

Sebastopol Inn Uncategorized

360k investment proposed for each hotel room homeless conversion, ready in three years

A spoof postcard of Shirlee Zane advertising the pleasures of Sonoma County to our sadly rapidly growing homeless population

In early 2016 Sonoma supervisor Shirlee Zane was exploring housing the ‘homeless’ – meaning indigents, the mentally ill and/or people trapped by substance abuse – in tiny homes on county and private land.

The structures would ideally be 150 square feet or greater and include cooking and bathroom facilities on site, according to the county. The tiny home communities would be connected to city water and would be required to be equipped with wastewater disposal.

 Various prefab home builders bid for this great opportunity, which emulates similar developments around the country and which have been previously discussed here. 

At that time Zane defended spending taxpayer money and occupying public land for ‘homeless projects’.

It costs more taxpayer dollars for somebody to remain homeless than it does to put them in a safe, secure place,” Zane said to the Press Democrat. “Those costs add up in terms of health care and criminal justice spending when people are out on the streets.

More recently in 2019 pallet shelter erected 60 personal shelters in 10 days at the Los Guillicos site for the emergency rehousing of the large Joe Rodota Trail encampment of itinerants and substance abusers. Supervisor Lynda Hopkins seemed delighted with the results.

Courtesy of Pallet Homes

2020 has seen a huge change of thinking from supervisors  Zane and Hopkins as a result of California State governor Newsom’s ‘project Homekey’ concept of permanently housing people in purchased hotel complexes. Newsom, who spends a surprising amount of time on Twitter sharing TV moments he has found emotionally touching and promoting concepts he is in favor of seems to have an endless supply of money to pour into expensive hotel purchases and conversions.

Sadly, Sonoma County citizens find out what our tax money spending decision makers are doing retrospectively, often via their colleagues at the Press Democrat who politely  ‘report’ on decisions made, contracts signed and money spent after the fact. Freedom of Information requests for contracts and information made by citizens are typically met by a wall of bureaucratic omertà, but there is plenty of self congratulation by our supervisor as decisions are announced.

The latest chapter in our saga, announced by the County mouthpiece Press Democrat, is that the sale of the Hotel Azura in Santa Rosa is being enabled by Homekey Money, and that the Sebastopol Inn at Gravenstein Station is on a ‘wait list’ – presumably waiting for Newsom to magic more money from somewhere in a major economic depression.

‘County officials’ say the cost the county provided to the state Aug. 13, more than a month after signing an agreement to buy the Hotel Azure for $7.9 million, was ‘simply a placeholder’ and that it will cost ‘at least’ an additional $3 million more. An official appraisal will supposedly precede ‘ongoing negotiations with the state’.

Sonoma County contains an average of 3000 homeless currently, assuming no influxes of itinerants attracted by resources on offer, and the Hotel Azura and Sebastopol Inn at Gravenstein Station (the station is a small shopping complex) would house approximately 75 people in approximately three years time, after an additional three million is spent on kitchens and sprinklers to comply with local and state regulations. 

The Hotel Azure has 42 kitchen less bedrooms. Supervisor Linda Hopkins, who has clearly never visited the Sebastopol Inn at Gravenstein Station, has been hoodwinked by someone that the hotel has ‘kitchenettes’ in each room. It does not. The rooms have microwave ovens except for two small entertainment areas suites which do have sinks as well as microwaves.

Quoting Tyler Silvie of the Press Democrat 
All told, county officials expect to spend $16.4 million to buy, renovate and operate Hotel Azura for the next two years as homeless housing.
The county would spend less — about $10.3 million — on the 31-room Sebastopol Inn, which Supervisor Lynda Hopkins said could be ready to serve residents more quickly, citing existing, in-room kitchenettes. But both hotels will carry substantial ongoing operations costs — $4.6 million combined annually, money the county has requested from the state. Additional money to run the hotels beyond two years is up in the air.

So essentially we have a spend of approximately $360,000 per converted single bedroom to prepare ‘homes’ for 75 people that will be ready in three years, totaling approximately 27 million dollars to buy the Hotel Azure & Sebastopol Inn as the foundations of this project.

This website suggests revisiting some of the many pre fab home building companies doing amazing work to house indigents and substance abuse casualties on existing county land and infrastructure,  and to thoroughly vet itinerant people who have arrived in Sonoma County before providing precious resources to attempt rehabilitation. 

We also suggest that anyone reading this at a state level carefully examine the Homekey application paperwork, which is full of irregularities, and to reconsider the logic of this fantastically expensive adventure, which may well run out of funding in 2022.


Sebastopol Inn at Gravenstein Station, Santa Rosa Hotel Azure Project ‘Homekey’ latest

Sonoma County have been awarded just under eleven million from Governor Newsom’s Homekey funding to now attempt to buy Santa Rosa’s Hotel Azure. The Board of Supervisors had recently awarded Homekey two million of tax payer and PGE settlement funds to pour into the ever expanding  homeless black hole as part of their annual budgeting, and this will be contributed to this lavish project to expand the mentally ill, substance abuse and economically ‘homeless’ rooming house hub in the St. Rose Historic District neighborhood of Santa Rosa. 

The Sebastopol Inn at Gravenstein Station is apparently on a Homekey bureaucratic future funding ‘wait list’ for conversion to a permanent ‘homeless’ rooming house according to the County’s media friends at the Press Democrat. It has been extremely hard to stay ahead of any of these developments before they are formally announced, despite multiple freedom of information requests (which are typically refused). 

It’s hard to know what can be effective in opposing the totally autocratic decision making coming from Governor Newsom’s bureaucrats given a complete lack of transparency and their magical abilities to make available vast sums of money for project funding. There are pockets of resistance all over California, with plenty of proof of the failures of project RoomKey, the room rental predecessor to the current HomeKey bonanza for low budget hotel owners. 

As previously discussed here, the term ‘homeless’ is hopelessly vague. We have genuinely economically homeless people (some of whom need to stay in hotels as their houses burnt down), people with substance abuse issues, people with mental health issues and blends of all these elements and issues. The current policies and lavish decision making continue to be disastrous and are making a bad situation worse. 

As San Francisco Mayor, Gavin Newsom grandly proclaimed in 2004 that within ten years he would ‘end homelessness’. Ten years later the streets were awash with encampments, human waste and drug paraphernalia, and today six years later are in an even worse state, with our economic depression set to make things worse. Los Angeles has increasingly major problems, with vast encampments and inbound transients. We are now seeing Newsom’s vision to ‘end homelessness’ rolled out across California at scale for the coming decade with no apparent mea culpas or admissions that his leadership approach is not only ineffective but actually making a bad situation worse. Given that California is politically one dimensional and entirely controlled by the Democrat party, there are only costly legal challenges as options to oppose this autocratic rule. 

There are far better solutions to resolving the multiple issues ‘homeless’ people are grappling with, but they are being willfully ignored by the burgeoning ‘non profit’ homeless services industry.  

Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane Third District (Santa Rosa) & interim director Barbie Robinson promoting IBM enterprise software on the Sonoma county website

Meanwhile we’ve already heard of one person who has sold up in Santa Rosa and is moving out of state, tired of fighting the giant bureaucracy that is steadily expanding to reward indigents from far and wide with voucher funding, housing and ‘wrap around services’.

It appears then that the next stages of promoting positive ‘homeless’ solutions and services and contesting the Homekey funded county services  will be legal objections, given that attempts at discussion with the county or their media friends falls on deaf ears.


Park Village fire

Park Village is a joint venture with the City of Sebastopol, WCCS, and the ‘Group of Advocates‘ (a voluntary organization concerned about the homeless). In this unique program, WCCS placed eight mobile living units in Tomodachi Park to provide homes for chronically homeless families and individuals.

On September 20th 2020 there was a major fire which sadly destroyed at least one caravan home.

The entire ‘Village Park’ property was purchased by the City primarily as a public laguna park for Sebastopol citizens and visitors. The City prepared a conceptual plan for park-related improvements of the entire property; Tomodachi Park represents implementation of one portion of this plan. However, the previous owner’s ‘Village Park’ mobile home pads have been maintained, and the City has not made a determination as to the long term status of this mobile home use.

The ‘Park Village’ Group of Advocates/ city/WCCS joint venture project is supported by the City of Sebastopol and private donors. In addition to the new living units, WCCS ‘is providing case management and supportive services to the 65 current extremely low and very low income residents of the Park: connections to employment, health, education, and will use its broad range of human services and partnerships to increasingly integrate the park and its residents into the broader community’.

Park Village is adjacent to the east of Sebastopol Inn at Gravenstein Station, which Sonoma County has applied for state funds to buy and convert into a homeless shelter.


Sonoma County Board of Supervisors budget decision session video

Allow a few seconds for the videos to load, there are almost the entire two days of deliberations captured here plus the final day one hour conclusion, thanking our county staff for their hard work and self congratulation by our elected representatives.

Where your taxpayer money went

The budget has a current $20 million deficit which was balanced in part with $26.8 million taken from the $149 million PG&E settlement stemming from the 2017 wildfires, which was intended to help ensure our future fire safety.

The money will instead be used to greatly increase funding for mental health, substance abuse, homeless services and associated expensive ongoing ‘Watson’ IBM software licensing costs for “ACCESS” bureaucratic systems (an unexpected additional budget cost last week), $920,000 for ‘clearing brush’ and a potential future tax measure to bolster fire services (using PGE fire compensation money to tax citizens further for fire services…), and expansion of bureaucracy by the council for ‘oversight’ of the county’s law enforcement, and also to ‘restore county reserves’ depleted during past fires.
Among items included in Sonoma County’s $2 billion budget:

$2 million: To chip in support for the application for $26 million from the State via ‘project Homekey’ to purchase of Hotel Azura in Santa Rosa and the Sebastopol Inn in Sebastopol for ‘permanent housing for homeless residents’

$355,000: Strengthen support for homeless services

$5.5 million: To expand the mobile support team that responds with law enforcement in cases involving mental health crises

$1.4 million: To boost support for the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Oversight over the next two or three years, including the addition of two attorneys

$20 million: COVID-19 response next year, including expanded testing

$384,000: Food distribution and other senior services

Source: Sonoma County Administrator’s Office

This is early stage information, we will get into the details once we have had a chance to analyze and explore further.

Day Two

(only 50 seconds)

Day Three single closing session

Above are almost the entire public sessions of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors discussing the annual budget for the coming fiscal year for analysis.


Morris Street RV Fire

“RV Fire Morris Street Friday night. We tried to get it out before it got into the power lines but we’re unable to.” – Sebastopol Fire department.

Fortunately no propane tank explosions but power was knocked out for surrounding businesses.


Email to Project Homekey: ‘Status of Sonoma County Project HomeKey application? ‘ 


Could you please let us know the status of Sonoma County’s application to purchase the Sebastopol Inn for permanent  conversion into homeless beds. This whole process is shrouded in secrecy and it is very hard for citizens to know what is being imposed on them by our county’s politicians!

You can find details of the challenges faced in Sebastopol and also Santa Rosa, which has the fourth largest ‘homeless’ population in Californian on our 

website and on the Citizens for Action Now!  Santa Rosa website. 

Which is a separate and now partner venture. 

We strongly believe that Sonoma County should be using one of the many pre existing sites and campuses they own to immediately get to grips with the homeless situation. 

The Santa Rosa fairgrounds could be immediately repurposed to help provide the many vehicle based homeless with sanitation and other basic facilities, and temporary housing erected before the winter. Longer term large campuses owned by the county such as the former hospital on Chanate Road in Santa Rosa could be developed as low cost housing/tiny homes. There is sanitation, power and water on site and the model that has been so successful in Austin Texas could be easily replicated there. 

We feel very strongly that removing the only functioning downtown hotel in Sebastopol, (which was recently used for fire evacuations) to use as homeless accommodation is a non starter. We talk to a lot of the local homeless people in Sebastopol and even they think it is a bad idea. It is located on the trail where a huge 250+ person homeless encampment sprang up last year and an RV living local commented to me this week that it would ‘become a tweaker den within six months’.

We are keen to see the county pursue well thought out strategies to help the homeless, and those with substance abuse and mental health problems, but damaging a small town like Sebastopol by removing the only hotel that is a vital part of local hospitality and associated jobs is a terrible idea. 

Buying 30 hotel bedrooms to convert to ‘homes’ doesn’t begin to solve the scale of homelessness issues, hurts the small downtown on multiple levels and is yet more evidence of Sonoma County’s complete lack of credible strategies or budgeting for homeless services as evidenced by last year’s civil grand jury report

Thank you for your time and we look forward to receiving details of the status of Barbie Robinson’s Sonoma County application for Project Homekey funding as soon as possible!



Sonoma County supervisors shift $2 million that had been earmarked to buy hotels to support local businesses and rental assistance programs

Press Democrat September 1 2020….To boost funding for small businesses and struggling renters and landlords, supervisors shifted $2 million that had been eyed to help purchase two hotels to house homeless residents. Instead, the board agreed to split that amount, with an additional $1 million each going to the small business grants and rental assistance programs.

Supervisor David Rabbitt expressed frustration with the process, saying he had always been against using CARES Act funding for the hotel purchases, even if he’s supportive of the program as a whole. The original amount slated to help small businesses — $1.5 million — didn’t come close to fixing the problem, he said
“It creates the illusion that we’re actually doing something when it’s actually a token amount of dollars,” Rabbitt said.
Toward the end of the discussion, Rabbitt led the effort to delay a decision on funding for the purchase of the Sebastopol Inn and Hotel Azura in downtown Santa Rosa, the two hotels eyed for homeless housing. He sought to put all $2 million allocated for those purchases into grants for small business before Supervisor Lynda Hopkins brokered a compromise that will split the money between small business help and rental assistance.
Supervisors will revisit the funding for hotel purchases next week, when they review spending of one-time money in budget discussions set to kick off Tuesday. Rabbitt said the need in the business community is more immediate than for the hotel purchases, which have yet to be finalized.
“For me, it’s about setting ourselves up for success instead of failure,” Rabbitt said….

Read more here


Santa Rosa Hotel Azura no sale to Sonoma County Petition

‘Our small neighborhood next to the Hotel Azura in downtown Santa Rosa has a similar response to the County’s proposal to purchase the hotel with Homekey funds from the State’:

The 72 Acre Chanate Road former Kaiser campus is a good fit for a large tiny home community

Sonoma County supervisors scrapped their most recent effort to sell the Chanate Road campus after a third developer walked away in early 2019 from negotiations to develop the land in northeast Santa Rosa for housing.

The Board of Supervisors first tried to sell the property for up to $12.5 million in a deal with local developer Bill Gallaher. His plan, which envisioned more than 800 units on the 72-acre site, was derailed by a lawsuit filed by neighbors of one of the largest vacant developable public parcels for housing within Santa Rosa city limits.

The county is required under state rules to deal principally with affordable housing firms or public or nonprofit entities in sale negotiations.

The Chanate Road property is currently mostly vacant, with maintenance costs soaring as the county seeks to control and limit break-ins and vandalism.

Sonoma County spent $768,000 in 2019 on securing the buildings against break-ins, and by June of 2020 costs reached $519,783, including last November and December, according to county documents.

The most recent decision reached by the board was to tear down 13 of the buildings on the site. $10.8 million was earmarked in September 2019 but bids for that work are at an unknown stage.

Meanwhile this Chanate Road campus property value has dropped. Having been appraised for $7 million in 2016, the value had dropped to $4.24 million by 2019 partially due to escalating costs for seismic studies and demolition of the asbestos-ridden buildings along with lawsuit resistance from neighbors.

According to a Press Democrat article by Ty Silvy “It is a perfect property to place an appropriate level of housing and services,” then Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Susan Gorin. “I’m confident we can find a developer to move that forward with the neighbors. But it seems to be challenging right now.”

Given the rapidly expanding homeless crisis this 72 acre property, which had been intended for low cost housing development should now be developed as ultra low cost and low cost housing, along with short term use of the Santa Rosa fairgrounds to house the homeless, and as temporary homes for homeless construction workers to work with the county and community to convert the Chanate Road campus.