Tensions over homelessness in Sevastopol peak with planned safe parking scheme
This raised concerns from some homeless advocates who said the proposed law was “cruel” and unconstitutional.
“They basically ban people who are homeless,” Alicia Roman, an attorney at California Rural Legal Assistance, told The Press Democrat last month.
“I wouldn’t be shocked if we were prosecuted for this,” said prosecutor and city manager Lawrence McLaughlin. “But that doesn’t mean we believe we’re vulnerable to a trial.”
Councilor Rich described the Sevastopol ordinance and safe parking program as part of a necessary compromise aimed at reducing homelessness in the city.
“We recognize that (the ordinance) is strict, but we have multiple city interests involved here,” she said.
Strengthen the application
At the Morris Street camp, a few hundred yards from the posh industrial breweries and clothing stores of The Barlow shopping centre, authorities have already stepped up enforcement.
Starting on Boxing Day, Sevastopol police began issuing more citations for parking and vehicle code violations already on the books, according to Chief Kevin Kilgore. Until then, officers had worked for months with homeless advocates, including the SAVS, to bring the motorhomes into compliance, which Kilgore described as a period of “leniency”.
In response, the SPAC began accepting a handful of trailers into the secure parking lot early during its preparation, which upset some neighbors.
Ronda Scott, 58, said her Subaru was towed last week for failing to pay for her vehicle registration. She has a place reserved at the motorhome village and now relies on SAVS to move the caravan she lives in.
“They should just say, ‘Fine, I’m glad you’re going, we’ll help you get there. ‘” Scott said of the agents handing out tickets. “Instead, are they going to start harassing us?”
Chief Kilgore said increased law enforcement was needed to protect everyone along Morris Street, including those in recreational vehicles. Some hook up propane tanks and generators to their vehicles and leave belongings along the sidewalk, creating safety hazards, he said.
“My job is to provide a fair and balanced approach that encompasses empathy, compassion and application,” he said.
Over the past year and in January this year, officers made 100 police reports related to drug activity, property damage and other crimes on Morris Street, Kilgore said. There were 35 arrests, including 10 for drug-related crimes and 15 for outstanding warrants and probation violations. Authorities also towed 21 vehicles.
Christie Geernaert, who owns a commercial property on Morris Street where she runs a furniture finishing shop, said some RVers damaged irrigation sprinklers while filling jugs with water, set fire to landscaping and stole car batteries to local businesses.
She said the city’s proposed parking ordinance is long overdue.
“It’s a good start,” Geernaert said. “It clearly doesn’t work here.”
Divergent positions on the motorhome village
Friends of Northwest Sevastopol, the newly formed neighborhood group suing the city, believes the RV village will do little but bring these problems to their community.
“The public health and safety issues at Camp Morris Street are illegally moved to our neighborhood just for the city council to say they did something for the neighbors of Morris Street,” said Zachary Imbrogno, the president of the group by email.
Instead, the group would be open to smaller RV sites set up throughout the city, Imbrogno said. Friends of Northwest Sebastopol is made up of a few dozen “neighborhood residents, business owners and employees, property owners and parents from the nearby charter school,” he said.
On Tuesday, a Sonoma County judge denied the group’s request to force a quick decision in the case. The suit is ready to move forward on a normal briefing schedule.
While some parents at Sebastopol Independent Charter School have joined the fight against the secure parking scheme, school officials are hoping for “partnership” with RV Village operators.
Chris Topham, the school’s headmaster, said the SAVS had promised a member of staff on site would be available to deal with any issues with local homeless people, whether or not they lived in the village. The school, which sits next to the Joe Rodota Trail bike path, has recently struggled with homeless people trespassing on the property, he said.
“I really enjoyed working with the members of the SAVS Board of Directors,” said Topham. “They were very responsive and very interested in hearing concerns.”
Scott, the RV resident who is considering switching to the secure parking scheme, said neighbors’ fears about people living in their vehicle are overblown.
She was born and raised in Santa Rosa and 10 years ago moved back to the El Dorado County area, where she owned a 14-acre ranch. Scott bought her trailer about 18 months ago after she couldn’t afford the increased rent on her home near Montgomery Village in Santa Rosa.
“It could happen to them too,” Scott said of those who filed suit against the RV village. “They need to figure that out, because you never know.”
According to the 2020 Homeless Count, 88% of more than 400 local homeless people who responded to a survey said they had lived in Sonoma County before becoming homeless. The census found about 2,700 homeless throughout the county.
Once settled into the safe parking program, Scott hopes to regain the stability needed to resume the bookkeeping job she runs with her mother.
“At the end of the year, I will have enough money to maybe be able to get back on my feet,” she said.
You can reach editor Ethan Varian at [email protected] or 707-521-5412. On Twitter @ethanvarian