Oct 9, 2018
by Will Carruthers
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors voted to reshape the county's Homeless System of Care in an effort to qualify for state funding and approved a plan to attempt to sell an 82-acre property county-owned property at the board's October 9 meeting.
As the rainy season begins once again, leaving Sonoma County’s homeless population vulnerable to the weather, the Board of Supervisors voted to update the county’s chain of command in an effort to qualify for state funding and create a unified vision for success in caring for the county’s homeless population.
The supervisors approved a plan to create new leadership boards to oversee the county’sHomeless System of Care and updated its goals in an attempt to qualify for two pools of state money.
With the new changes, the county is trying to simplify the county’s care model so that it can apply for a total of $13 million of state money. The money includes $12.1 million from the California Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP) and $843,907 from the California Emergency Solutions and Housing Program (CESH), both to be spent over the next two years.
The new leadership boards include the Leadership Council, made up of a majority of elected officials from Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Sonoma County, and a 25-member Technical Advisory Committee, made up of “community experts.”
A report about the county’s strategy identified concerns about a “lack of a clear vision across the community,” and feelings of “isolation from the broader system, resulting in different measurements of success, reporting requirements, duplication of efforts, and a lack of coordination.”
The old organizational chart was so complicated and convoluted that some referred to it as “spaghetti and meatballs,” according to Supervisor Shirlee Zane.
Staff also updated the Homeless System of Care’s mission statement. The new goal is to achieve “functional zero” – the ability to house newly homeless people within a month of living on the streets – by using “housing first” policies that prioritize offering housing to homeless people without “preconditions and barriers to entry, such as sobriety, treatment or service participation requirements,” according to a staff presentation.
Staff and supervisors acknowledged that the county is far away from its new goal. The county’s 2018 Homeless Census found that 10 percent of the county’s homeless people lived on the streets for less than a month, 34 percent were homeless for between one and 11 months, and 56 percent were homeless for more than a year.
It currently takes the county an average of 123 days to house a newly homeless person, Michael Gause, the county’s Continuum of Care Coordinator, told the supervisors.
Activists speaking during the public comment period acknowledged the need to pursue funding but criticized recent police actions in the county, including the Santa Rosa Police Department’s eviction of a homeless encampment on Friday, Sept. 28.
“I have no doubt that these changes will be good, but we are taking a hard right turn on punishment,” said Scott Wagner, an activist who wrote about the police action online.
Kathleen Finigan, a member of Homeless Action, asked the supervisors to consider other, faster housing options for the county’s homeless population, including building small homes, as was done in Yolo County’s Woodland Opportunity Village.
At the supervisors’ afternoon session, a conversation about the county’s options for moving forward on a stalled housing project, morphed into a debate over the reasons for the reason behind the county’s lack of affordable housing.
The Supervisors grappled with three options to move forward a housing project that was stalled by a neighborhood group’s legal action against the county’s plan. After hearing comment from the neighbors, several supervisors criticized the speakers as the reason why affordable housing is not completed in the county.
“I’m tired of all of the affordable housing ending up in western Santa Rosa because they cannot afford to litigate it,” said Supervisor Lynda Hopkins in a speech responding to neighbors who stated a preference for single-family homes instead of apartment buildings on the lot.
Friends of Chanate, a neighborhood group, sued the county in August 2017, a month after the county announced its plan to sell the land to local developer Bill Gallaher, one of two bidders for the land.
In a July 2018 ruling, a judge agreed with the neighborhood group’s claim that the project required an Environment Impact Report before it was sold but disagreed with the group's two other claims: that the sale price - $12 million - constituted a gift of public land and that the county violated the Brown Act, a law requiring the county to conduct public outreach about projects.
The county decided not to appeal the decision.
Supervisor Zane said that the plan was to have Santa Rosa to complete an Environmental Impact Report after the property was transferred to the city, but the county’s General Services Director Caroline Judy said that by the end of the deal making process, Santa Rosa had wanted the county to manage the environmental planning process for the project.
After discussion, the supervisors voted to have staff send the land back to bid as surplus land, excluding Parcel J – a ten-acre piece of land currently used as open space – and a historically-significant rural cemetery on the property.
Staff will return to a later meeting with the legal wording of the land for the supervisors to approve. If the county does not receive enough bids on the land, the supervisors said they will release another Request For Proposals for the property.
You can view the full agenda here.
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