Thousands of Sonoma County residents living in trailers and tiny homes will feel safer in the new year, thanks to a December 6, 2022 vote by Sonoma County Supervisors to end a code enforcement process that has caused the eviction of 200 residents per year from alternative affordable safe housing.
Supervisors voted 5-to-0 to approve two major revisions to county zoning code.
For the first time, the ecologically low-impact tiny homes and trailers that today house thousands of low income renters will be legally permitted.
As of April 1, 2023, more than 60,000 property owners living in Sonoma County’s unincorporated area will have the legal right to to rent out one trailer, RV, or tiny home. The zoning code revision is technically an expansion of the county’s emergency Temporary Housing Program. No vacation rentals will be allowed.
A second revision will make Sonoma County the first county in California State history to legalize composting toilets, which use little or no water.
Trailers and tiny homes will be required to have a “haul and carry” plan for gray water. But for the first time, they will no longer need to be required by law to be connected to septic systems, a very expensive and often unattainable obstacle to many property owners.
The vote, which was championed by County Supervisor and organic farmer Lynda Hopkins, came as the result of the grassroots SAGE campaign (“Stop All Government Evictions”) that was launched on this website on November 4, 2022.
An eight part investigative series here at the Sonoma Independent exposed the shameful fact that our seemingly progressive county government had become one of the largest evictors of low income tenants in the entire state of California.
A month long review of thousands of citations by Permit Sonoma showed that in the midst of the largest housing crisis in history, the county’s code enforcement agency was evicting nearly 200 tenants, many of them seniors, from safe, affordable tiny homes and trailers. This was double the number of unhoused people that Sonoma County acquires emergency housing for; at a cost, to taxpayers, of $20 million each year.
To build widespread local public awareness of this inhumane system, the Sonoma Independent launched this Change.org petition. Signed by more than 3,700 people, it quickly became the largest housing rights petition in Sonoma County history.
More than 135 petition signers also made micro donations to Change.org to promote the petition, which called for a new ordinance that would align county policy with our government’s frequently proclaimed commitment to retaining and expanding affordable housing.
In a nutshell, our petition urged county supervisors to revise zoning codes to permit thousands of people to live simply so that they can simply afford to live in California.
But it was not the petition that transformed the position of the four supervisors who initially opposed our campaign.
It was this two minute public interest advocacy video that we created of a housing rights protest song written and performed by my friend Copperwoman Saso, the 70-year old grandmother whose composting toilet had made her tiny home un-permit-able.
Last winter, after a phone call by by an anonymous neighbor, Permit Sonoma ordered Copperwoman’s close friend and property owner to remove her pastoral tiny home or face fines of more than $10,000.
With the help of dozens of donors, our SAGE campaign used “evolutionary media advocacy” to advertise this video on YouTube to residents of Sonoma County. More than 50,000 voting age adults chose to watch it.
Because this video put a human face, and images of a sweet community-connected tiny home, to a dysfunctional code enforcement system, thousands of informed voters influenced our elected supervisors to vote to change zoning policy to reflect a sensible keep people in their affordable homes approach.
From the very start of the Stop All Government Evictions from Safe Affordable Trailers and Tiny Homes Campaign, County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, championed the cause of zoning reform and the legalization of composting toilets. When our coalition first brought the issue to public comment at the board of Supervisors a year ago, Hopkins, was the only one of five supervisors to support our position. After numerous public comments, Sonoma Independent exposés shared over Facebook, as well as private conversations, and letters to local media, all five supervisors came to support this historic legislation.
“I really appreciate all of the fantastic advocacy from the community…to be at this place of being poised to take what I believe is truly radical change to legalize and to actually improve the way folks are already living,” Supervisor Lynda Hopkins said at the December 6 meeting.”
As seen in the video below, Hopkins also explained that the changes would ensure that occupants of trailers and tiny homes, “are not considered sort of illegal, that they have a pathway to living in this County and not being sort of subject to being kicked out at any moment. It’s a huge deal and I’m really excited…for the step that we’re taking today.”
During the December 6 Supervisor meeting, this reporter, on behalf of the Sonoma Independent.org, joined Copperwoman Saso and three other housing advocates to ask county government to allow the permitting of two trailers, instead of just one, for properties larger than one acre.
We also asked supervisors to revise the proposed ordinance to allow county farms struggling to supply workforce housing be allow three trailers per farm.
Although the Supervisors did not vote for our suggestion, it was clear that this limitation might be reconsidered by the County Planning Commission at a later date.
Meanwhile, Margaret DeMatteo, the Housing Policy Attorney at Legal Aid of Sonoma County, told the Sonoma Independent that her organization is available to advise anyone living in a tiny home who is facing eviction as a result of Permit Sonoma enforcement. They can be reached at at (707) 542-1290 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Sonoma Independent created the SAGE Campaign so that property owners renting trailers, tiny home for safe, alternative housing could be legislatively supported by our government, instead of criminalized.
This historic legislation achieves that, and, in a welcome change, aligns Sonoma County policies with its citizen’s intention to retain and encourage affordable housing.