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.
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.