Next Tuesday, January 25, the Board of Supervisors will be meeting to set their legislative agenda, in advance, for the entire year! Last year, Supervisors did not have a single discussion about how they might ease Permit Sonoma’s draconian enforcement policies, which caused the eviction of about 200 low income residents (as detailed here), many of them senior citizens, from safe, affordable RV’s and tiny homes.
The coalition of activists making up SAGE (Stop All Government Evictions) and The Sonoma Independent are calling on the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors to place on the agenda for early February, 2022, an emergency ordinance to prevent Permit Sonoma from ordering the eviction of people living in safe, but unpermitted, alternative housing.
Lynda Hopkins, who has been a champion of the rights of thousands of people to live in the relative safety of affordable alternative housing, believes that the easiest way for the Board to address our government eviction crisis is to apply a short term solution that County government created a few years ago that allowed residents rebuilding their homes from fires to live in RV’s without permits.
This post-fire disaster urgency ordinance could easily be used as a legally efficient model to protect unpermitted people living in equally safe RV’s, tiny homes and converted dwellings. This would be a near term fix for antiquated housing code and septic issues that will likely take years to modernize. Legalizing composting toilets (which are permitted in eight other states) and kitchen greywater systems would be ecologically beneficial and save tremendous amounts of water, as the Sonoma Independent reported here. But doing so will require the coordination of multiple county agencies. During this time, unless our county supervisors choose to place an urgency protection ordinance on the agenda and vote for it, hundreds more people will lose their homes.
Because of the complexities involved with finding a permanent solution to this problem we are advocating for the moratorium to be passed first, preventing additional evictions while giving the Board more time to find a long term solution. Specifically, we will be calling on our Board of Supervisors to amend Sonoma County Code section 26-92-200 with a moratorium on enforcement of violations of the code that lead to evictions of tenants from alternative affordable housing, including tiny homes, yurts and mobile trailers, until such time as Permit Sonoma and the County Supervisors are able to amend the code to reflect the emergency need for lower cost housing and the environmental sustainability and advantages of composting toilets. (Eight states, including Colorado and Washington, allow composting toilets, which save water and have, as of yet, NEVER been proven to adversely impact public health).
Draft of a New Urgency Ordinance to Protect People Living in Unpermitted Safe Alternative Housing from County Government Eviction
While the urgency ordinance is in effect, Permit Sonoma shall cease code enforcement activity that results in orders of Unlawful Use/Zoning Violations issued against property owners hosting unpermitted safe affordable alternative housing, including trailer/RV’s, tiny homes, converted barns and garages, and yurts.
Exceptions to this moratorium on enforcement shall include:
1) When the property owner is not a full time resident
2) When there is more than one unpermitted safe affordable alternative dwelling per acre, for a maximum of three units for three or more acres.
3) When there is an immediate and clear threat to public health (such as blocking egress) or evidence of significant safety violations. The absence of a permit, composting or trailer toilets, or alternative dwelling structures shall not constitute such evidence.
4) If there has been a criminal arrest by the sheriff’s department on the premises or repeated calls for law enforcement by neighbors
To protect the County from the potential of lawsuits relating to this ordinance, we are proposing that if Permit Sonoma is called to inspect an unpermitted dwelling, property owners who rent safe affordable alternative housing can be required to sign an agreement indemnifying the county agains lawsuits by neighbors. This is similar language to what was recently included in the emergency fire ordinance that expands the use of travel trailers and RVs for fire victims.
“The Property Owners shall indemnify, hold harmless and defend the County, its agents and employees, from and against any and all claims, demands, liabilities, costs, expenses, actions, and causes of action that may be asserted by any person or entity, including the Property Owner, arising out of or in connection with the performance of the terms of this Order.”