Housing Groups Join 3,000 Petitioners Urging Supervisors to End Permit Sonoma’s Eviction War on the Poor Housing rights campaign for renters of trailers & tiny homes now supported by Homeless Action, Legal Aid, Tenants Union & Rabbitt opponent Blake Hooper

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On January 25, during a Sonoma County’s Board of Supervisors meeting to set the legislative agenda for 2022,  a growing group of housing activists and representatives from local civic groups urged the Board of Supervisors to pass a moratorium on code enforcement evictions of people living in safe alternative housing.

More than 3,000 people have signed this petition (please share) calling on the county to halt the evictions of people living in these homes. Yet even with what one long time supervisor noted was a record number of public comments for an agenda setting meeting,  a majority of supervisors seem unwilling to even place a discussion of these unpopular government evictions on the coming year’s agenda, choosing to pretend that they are powerless to curb a dysfunctional system that causes twice as many low income residents to become homeless as the county spends nearly $20 million each year acquiring housing for.

On February 8th, Supervisors will meet again to finalize the 2022 agenda. The Sonoma Independent-led Campaign to Stop All Government Evictions from Safe Affordable Alternative Housing is urging voters to call their supervisor at (707) 565-2241 or email them (info below) to urge them to vote for  an urgency ordinance like our proposed moratorium here–or at least place it on the agenda early in the year for public discussion.

Permit Sonoma effectively evicts around 200 residents every year from tiny homes, trailers, and other alternative housing. Even though this housing is on the whole perfectly safe, Permit Sonoma considers any dwelling not up to the letter of California code to be a threat to health and safety. Because most of these homes are trailers, which are only permissible for fire victims, caregivers, and farmworkers, they are either impossible or prohibitively expensive to legalize.

Last August, the de facto eviction by Permit Sonoma of a 70 year-old grandmother named Copperwoman Saso from her safe and recently built tiny home (see video of it here), brought activists together to stop this inhumane policy. They hoped that during a pandemic and affordable housing crisis, Supervisors would be quick to put a stop to these evictions. Unfortunately, with the exception of Supervisor Hopkins, supervisors have ignored the call for change.

Instead three of Sonoma County’s Supervisors: Gore, Gorin and Rabbitt,  have sought to recast the issue in a negative light, calling these homes unsafe, although Permit Sonoma, when pressed through a California Public Record Act request four months ago, was unable to cite a single instance of a person being harmed by a composting or trailer toilet.

“I am shocked, as a taxpaying citizen concerned with the human rights of low income people and seniors here in Sonoma County, that while our supervisors have chosen to agendize three meetings in the coming year for an unpopular and unneeded $1 billion new home for their government offices, they cannot find time to even discuss a moratorium on Permit Sonoma’s inhumane eviction war on the poor,” said Jonathan Greenberg, editor of the Sonoma Independent and founder of the Stop All Government Evictions from Safe, Affordable Alternative Housing Campaign.

During public comment, fourteen members of the public asked Supervisors to place the moratorium, or an urgency ordinance, on the 2022 agenda. In addition to those speakers, other members of the public who came to speak on climate and labor issues also voiced support for both the moratorium and legalizing compost toilets. The sheer number of speakers led Supervisor Rabbit to say “this is by far the [agenda setting meeting] that has brought out the most folks with the most ideas.”

Following public comment, Board Chair Gore asked the other supervisors to respond and discuss how the proposed agenda might be changed to accommodate some of the issues brought forth by the public. Linda Hopkins, the 5th district’s Supervisor, who has been outspoken on the issue of keeping people in their homes and legalizing waterless toilets, reiterated that she wanted to make sure that the issue was addressed. Gore and Hopkins had a bank and forth, discussing that some of the issues, such as updating the code and legalizing composting toilets might be added onto already agendized topics.

Hopkins agreed that those might be good places for some of the discussion, but that it was important to consider a moratorium separately, stating “I think we’re looking at the building code update at that time, and then we also have the Onsite Wastewater Treatment System conversation.”

“But,” Supervisor Hopkins continued, “I think it would be important to have a conversation around, is there a need for a stay of enforcement in certain cases? What are the tools at code enforcement’s disposal to try and keep folks in their homes while we work towards solutions for some of these dwellings, which are habitable and do not present any sort of a safety risk to the inhabitants but are not currently permissible under our code.”

“It might need to be a sort of one, two, three. There might be a few different prongs with this one. I’d appreciate hearing from the county counsel on the opportunities in terms of a stay of enforcement or moratorium.”

Supervisor David Rabbit, who during a December Board meeting stated that “To be clear, PRMD (Permit Sonoma) does not evict anyone,” ignored the public outcry for a moratorium and instead chose to frame the issue in the long process of reforming county housing code during a years long process, during which time Permit Sonoma will continue to evict hundreds of low income renters form the most affordable safe housing Sonoma County has to offer.  “Someone mentioned our code in terms of the alternate housing,” Rabbitt said. “Our code is the California building code, and there is a process to address that.” 

One of the commenters that spoke in favor of a moratorium was Blake Hooper, a candidate for Rabbit’s 2nd district supervisory seat. Following both of their statements, it seems likely that safe affordable alternative housing will be an important issue in the upcoming District 2 supervisor election this June. 

“Please add an emergency ordinance to protect alternative housing to the calendar as well.” Rabbitt opponent Blake Hooper commented. “Talk is cheap when it comes to solving our affordable housing crisis if you’re not willing to protect the housing that we have!”  

Among the other members of the public supporting a moratorium on safe affordable alternative housing was Margaret DeMatteo, a Housing Policy Attorney with Sonoma County Legal Aid. “Legal Aid of Sonoma County supports safe affordable alternative housing and an end to Permit Sonoma’s policy of ticketing property owners and red tagging, which forces 200 low income people, many of them seniors, into homelessness each year.”

Michael Stanford, a Sonoma County Tenants Union organizer and board member also spoke in support of a moratorium. “I think it’s absolutely shameful that in our current housing market and with the current state of homelessness, that we’re evicting 200 people a year based on minor code violations.” Two climate activists speaking for the Coalition Opposing New Gas Stations also spoke in support of protecting safe affordable alternative housing.

Yet despite broad community support, passing, or even debating, a Permit Sonoma moratorium will be an uphill battle. The Sonoma Independent and the housing activists leading this effort are advocating for a multi-part process like the one suggested by Supervisor Hopkins. We are asking the supervisors to first pass a moratorium on Permit Sonoma evictions, and then to take up the longer and more difficult task of modernizing the housing code. Since we first reported on this story at least another 76 individuals have lost their homes due to Permit Sonoma’s enforcement actions.

“With the exception of Lynda Hopkins, who supports an urgency ordinance for a moratorium, Supervisors Gore, Gorin, Coursey and Rabbitt are choosing to kill a simple solution in a political back room by refusing to place it on the agenda, with no public debate or accountability,” Greenberg observed. “This will result in the continuation of a senseless, inhumane policy that forces 200 of our lowest income neighbors, many of them seniors, from their safe, modest trailers and tiny homes into homelessness.”

“Unless they place a moratorium on Permit Sonoma’s shameful eviction war on the agenda and pass it, our campaign will have no recourse other than to seek injunctive relief from a federal court to protect the human rights of the hundreds of people whose lives will be needlessly destroyed during the coming year.” Greenberg said.

How You Can Help

It is vital that as many people as possible contact the Supervisor’s before the February 8th meeting.

We are asking all Sonoma County residents willing to help to please call your county supervisor at (707) 565-2241 and urge them to place an urgency ordinance protecting unpermitted people from eviction on the agenda for early 2022. It is vital that as many people as possible contact the Supervisor’s before the February 8th meeting.

Or email all the County Supervisors and tell them where you live and a few sentences on how you feel about this and why. You can email them all at once and let us know you have done so by pasting these addresses into an email:

Susan.Gorin@sonoma-county.org, Arielle.Kubu-Jones@sonoma-county.org, David.Rabbitt@sonoma-county.org, Andrea.Krout@sonoma-county.org, Chris.Coursey@sonoma-county.org, sean.hamlin@sonoma-county.org, district4@sonoma-county.org, jchamber@sonoma-county.org, district5@sonoma-county.org, Leo.Chyi@sonoma-county.org, campaigns@progressivesource.com  (this cc would allow us to have a record of the number of supportive emails).

Do you live in Supervisor James Gore or Chis Coursey’s District?

We are looking for volunteers who live in the 3rd and 4th districts (Healdsburg/Windsor/Santa Rosa/Rohnert Park) to join in a zoom call to discuss their positions with Supervisors Gore and Coursey. We have found this to be particularly helpful and currently do not have a constituent delegation for the 3rd and 4th districts. You can find out which district you live in here. Please email us at campaigns@progressivesource.com if you are interested and we can help walk you through this.

 

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Tim Ryan

Tim Ryan is the Managing Editor of the Sonoma Independent. Tim graduated from Humboldt State University in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in Sociocultural Anthropology, where he conducted ethnographic research during the 2016 presidential elections. After graduating he worked in social services for the County of Humboldt. Prior to that position, Tim worked for a local environmental group.

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