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RV Village & Parking Policy Update


 As always, remember that I do not speak for the full City Council. I am one of five. The contents here reflect my own observations as an individual elected who has been appointed to the Ad Hoc Committee for the Unhoused. Final decisions on this and other issues are made by the full City Council, at our public meetings. The next meeting, which is on the RV Village topic, is this Tuesday Dec 7 at 6pm. The zoom link and meeting documents are HERE. In addition, the Staff Report is attached HERE.

Context for the Proposed Site at 845 Gravenstein Highway North: Let's not forget the Morris Street RV situation: As a reminder, the unsafe, unhealthy situation on Morris Street is the "why" that explains the decision to move forward with 845 Gravenstein Highway North. Let's not forget how appalling it's become, and the broad section of our population that's been suffering the consequences. This is a huge problem that the people elected to the City Council have been hearing about for years. The City Council has received hundreds of complaints from all sectors of the community: our local business owners who are trying to make a living, our Little League youth who just want to walk safely to their games, locals who want safe walking access to the Laguna de Santa Rosa trail, bicyclists who find themselves forced into shared space with cars because of the oversized RVs that jut into the roadway, people attending events at the Sebastopol Community Cultural Center and at Wischemann Hall, the students at the High School, the vulnerable youth at Greenacre Homes who want a peaceful, quiet, safe place to live, and all the people who just want to stroll comfortably down Morris Street but now are forced into the street because the available sidewalk has become an extended living room/garbage collection site for RVs. The complaints: garbage, feces, drug paraphernalia, confrontations, the sense that the common space that the sidewalks should be are instead private spaces claimed by RV dwellers.

The Morris Street Problem - Bottom Line: The predictable chaos that can be expected when people of limited resources are forced into a living situation that lacks sanitation, support, management, basic human services, and a sense of structure, accountability, and responsibility has and is occurring on Morris Street. Worth recognizing is that even those who advocate for the unhoused find this intolerable and are calling for change. They are telling us unambiguously that this is an untenable situation that cannot continue. It is inhumane, unsafe, and unhealthy, and a public nuisance, for the unhoused and for our entire community.

The Ad Hoc Committee: Tasked with finding an alternate location: In early October (the 5th), the City Council told the Ad Hoc Committee to explore other options for the RVs on Morris Street, and report back.

The Challenges: It's not just location, location, location: The barriers to addressing the Morris Street RV situation were easy to identify but hard to address: money, location, and community will. As to money, the City had none to allocate. To meet the 2021-22 budget, the City drew on reserves, to the tune of approximately 1 million dollars, to balance an 11.2 million dollar budget. That deficit budget did not include funding for an RV Village for the unhoused. As to location, the City of Sebastopol was advised that legally the location needed to be inside the City limits in order to allow any changes within the City regarding parking. Complicating the options for locations is the fact that unlike some jurisdictions, the City does not own property that is currently unused. As to community will, there was unhappiness with the Morris Street situation, but it was unclear whether citizens would support any location as an alternate location. 

Barrier One (Money): Funding falls in our laps, but with a deadline: In October, as the Ad Hoc Committee was doing outreach and holding meetings with as many stakeholders as could be engaged, an amazing opportunity was presented: Sonoma Applied Village Services (SAVS) met with the Ad Hoc Committee on October 20 and made a surprising offer: SAVS had funding ($368,000) and wanted to use it to set up and operate an RV Village for a year. What was being offered? Funding and an operator. The kicker: The site had to be confirmed by no later than December 8 or the money would go away. What next? A location...quickly. 

Barrier Two (Location): One falls by the wayside, another (amazingly) develops: The location had to be easy to confirm, because of the December 8 funding deadline. Parameters were set (see earlier updates on this website). The search began. 

Public Works Storage Yard: The first site considered was a City-owned lot, located on Morris Street, behind Wischemann Hall, and currently being used as a Public Works Storage Yard. From October 20 through November 17, the Ad Hoc Committee worked diligently on this location, hoping that in the end it could be a tenable option. The evening of November 17 was a watershed moment: it was clear that two major problems meant the Public Works Storage Yard would need to be abandoned. The first was continued official objections by the Sonoma County Juvenile Justice Commission, which opposed the location because it shared a fence line with Greenacre Homes, a residential group home that houses vulnerable youth who are under Court supervision. The second was the reality of expenses associated with using the Storage Yard. It was going to cost upwards of $130,000 to move materials off the site and into the Main Yard, provide electrical service to the site, and to grade and prepare it for SAVS. 

845 Gravenstein Highway North: The Ad Hoc Committee's search for other locations ran concurrently with the effort to make the Public Works Storage Yard workable. From October 5 onward, this effort involved examination of multiple City-owned lots, as well as multiple conversations with various people about privately owned lots that might be leased. St Vincent de Paul had been in those conversations as a resource, with the Ad Hoc Committee particularly interested in their input because of SVDP's successful operation of Los Guilicos Village. Those conversations had come to naught, until Thursday, October 18, when St Vincent de Paul made an amazing offer. The nonprofit wanted to purchase a property that was available at 845 Gravenstein Highway North, and offer it to SAVS on a one year lease to operate the RV Village for the RVs on Morris Street. Because of SAVS's funding limitations, the City would be expected to cover the lease payments for the first year, totaling $60,000. St Vincent de Paul had long term plans for the property (likely housing) but wasn't ready to move forward with that project just yet. The property met all the parameters the Ad Hoc Committee had set for viable lots. The Ad Hoc and SAVS agreed, with the Ad Hoc Committee making it clear that full City Council support would be needed, and that the lease amount was particularly troublesome because of the City's financial situation. Still, all were hopeful, and waited to hear whether the purchase would become a reality. An offer to purchase was made on Friday November 19, and the property went into escrow on Wednesday November 24, with a very short closing date of December 6. With SAVS facing a December 8 deadline regarding funding, this looked like a real offer that could save the RV Village idea. 

Staff Report and Outreach: Between November 19 and November 24, a period of five days, the Ad Hoc Committee quickly pulled together a draft Staff Report. When escrow was confirmed on the 24th, the Ad Hoc finalized the Staff Report, which was immediately posted that same day, in order to give as much public notice as possible that the proposal would be presented at the November 30 Council meeting. All subscribers to the City meeting notification e-list (approximately 300 people) received an email, and a special edition of the City ENews was distributed to the 1176 subscribers to that list. Councilmember Rich sent an email to her ENews list of 350 subscribers, and updated her City Council website to provide details. Adrienne Lauby, president of SAVS, went door to door on the weekend after Thanksgiving to provide notice to the neighbors adjacent to the site, speaking to those who were home, and leaving printed information for those who were not.

Barrier Three (Community Will): The November 30 meeting and beyond... On November 30 the City Council met to consider the new site proposal. The meeting page, with the staff report and (soon) the livestream recording of the meeting, is HERE. Approximately 150 people were present, and about 40 of those made public comment. The City Council also received input via email, voice mails, phone conversations, and in person discussions from about 80 people. That provided 120 total comments. In this group, there were a number who were opposed, and seemed to object to the RV Village no matter how safe, secure, sanitary, and well-managed it might be. And there was a substantial number who were solidly in favor it it. There were also many for whom the primary concern was that Morris Street be cleared and that a City-wide parking solution be imposed. But what was the primary message from all of these comments? A need for more information. An opportunity to express the serious doubts, concerns, and questions people are feeling, and to have those questions answered in a way that would reassure them that the RV Village would NOT be Morris Street transferred to a new location, but would be a managed, well-run, RV Village with all the protections in place to make everyone feel safe, secure, and confident in the continued good character of their neighborhood.

What does this have to do with Community Will? This is a compassionate town that wants to address the situation on Morris Street, and wants to do the right thing. What will help us find the inner strength to get this RV Village in place, to have the will to do the right thing as a community? That's an easy one to answer: information and process. That's what the Ad Hoc Committee and SAVS intends to do - provide information and process. We couldn't do it before the November 30 meeting, but we're doing it now (see below).

The November 30 Decision in Detail:

Homeless Emergency Declared: The City Council directed the Mayor to sign a Resolution Declaring a Homeless Emergency in the City of Sebastopol, specifically on Morris Street and Laguna Park Way.

Public Works Storage Yard Dismissed: The City Council decided the Public Works Storage Yard was not a viable option for the proposed RV Village. 

845 Gravenstein Highway North Selected: The City Council decided to support 845 Gravenstein Highway North as the site for the RV Village. A Memorandum of Understanding was authorized, to be entered into with SAVS and to be used to ensure SAVS's receipt of the $368,000 in funding to operate the RV Village. Funding sources for the $60,000 in lease obligations were discussed, with the Mayor announcing possible County funding and the City Council directing staff to consider as a back up either the Affordable Housing Fund or as a second choice the general fund. The Ad Hoc Committee was directed to finalize the details of an operational agreement with SAVS (to supplement the MOU) and return with that agreement for the City Council to consider at the December 7 Council meeting. 

Clearing Morris and Parking Changes City-Wide: The City Council made a commitment to clearing Morris Street and to supporting parking rule changes to protect Morris Street as well as the neighborhoods from developing overnight parking problems in the future. Staff was directed to develop a practical, enforceable, realistic plan to do the following: (1) clear Morris Street, (2) modify and enforce parking rules on Morris Street to prevent future collection of overnight lived-in vehicles on that street, and (3) make any needed changes in parking rules City-wide to prevent similar situations from developing in neighborhoods and elsewhere in town. Staff was directed to bring the plan, with an outline of alternatives, to the City Council meeting on December 21. The Council also made a commitment to prohibiting RVs from moving into an RV Village until the parking concerns had been addressed and resolved, with the benefit of the requested plan from City Staff.

Next: More Information and Process! Community meetings, contact with and from SAVS, another City Council meeting, the opportunity to participate on an ongoing basis with a SAVS Community Advisory Committee. Lots of information and lots of process. 

  • This Tuesday December 7@6pm: City Council meeting to approve final agreement with SAVS. You can get the zoom link and meeting documents HERE. In addition, the RV Village Staff Report for this meeting is attached HERE.
  • Thursday December 9@5pm: SAVS Community Discussion at the Community Church, 1000 Gravenstein Highway North. Contact Adrienne Lauby for more details ( Covid rules in place. Meeting is hosted by SAVS, but the Ad Hoc Committee and City Manager will be present to answer questions and act as a resource. 
  • Next Week: SAVS invited to a Charter School Town Hall by Director Chris Topham. Charter School families only, with invitations sent by Chris Topham. Ad Hoc Committee members will be present. 
  • Community Advisory Committee: SAVS will meet with this group regularly now, and then at least monthly after the RV Village is operational. Concerns, complaints, suggestions from neighbors will be discussed and solutions developed to address neighborhood and community concerns. Attend the December 9 Community Discussion if you are interested in being on the CAC.
  • 24/7 Phone: SAVS will have a 24/7 phone number that will be available to anyone who has concerns. It will be carried by a manager at the Village (there will always be a manager on site). 
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Your opportunities to share your thoughts and be involved are as follows:
  • Email Mary Gourley She will immediately forward your email to all City Councilmembers. 
  • Subscribe to the City Council meeting notices so you can be alerted to any City Council meetings on this topic. The subscription link is HERE.
  • Read the STAFF REPORT for the December 7 meeting. It's attached HERE. It contains the entire operational agreement between the City and SAVS. It has all the requirements SAVS will respect regarding security, curfew, reporting, and safety. Know the details. 
  • Attend the City Council meeting Tuesday Dec 7@6pm, when the Council considers the final operational agreement with SAVS. The Zoom Link is on the meeting page HERE
  • !! UPDATE: THURSDAY 12/9 MEETING IS VIA ZOOM - Zoom Link HERE.  Attend the Community Discussion Thursday Dec 9@5pm. This meeting had been planned as an in-person meeting at Community Church. Due to Covid concerns, given the number of people wanting to participate, SAVS decided to make this a zoom meeting. The plan is the same: a detailed presentation outlining the specific measures SAVS has in place to ensure structure, responsibility, accountability, transparency, and the reasons neighbors can be confident the the RV Village will be well-managed, contained, and will offer a safe and secure environment for the neighborhood. 
  • Email Adrienne Lauby of SAVS directly with your questions and input.
My final message is the same as the last time I posted an update: Let’s make this really bad situation a better one. Sebastopol is a compassionate, proactive, collaborative, pragmatic community. We can do this.  

PD Article - Dec 1, 2021

Diana Rich, Sebastopol City Council
321 S. Main St. #60, Sebastopol CA 95472
707 861-0032
FPPC #1430199
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