Sebastopol Inn

Sonoma County’s Department of Health Services (DHS) director set forth a timeline and details on the Sebastopol Inn’s conversion to a permanent supportive housing site for COVID-vulnerable homeless residents at the Dec. 15 Sebastopol City Council meeting.

The city’s new neighbors will move into the purchased by the county with state Project Homekey funds by Dec. 31, according to Barbie Robinson, the county’s director of health services (DHS) and interim executive director for the Community Development Commission (CDC).

Assistant DHS Director Tina Rivera said escrow was scheduled to close Wednesday, Dec. 16. The inn’s 31 units near downtown Sebastopol count toward Sonoma County’s own goal of establishing 1,000 permanent supportive housing units in the county, which Robinson said has the fourth highest number of unsheltered people in a large suburban area in the nation.

Sebastopol Inn may house more than 31 people, since some may be couples and families. Residency selection will prioritize homeless community members currently living at the county’s non-congregate sites (NCS), aged 65 and older and/or who have chronic or serious health issues, like cancer, diabetes, COPD and mental health and substance abuse issues, Robinson said.

“These individuals were identified as potential candidates based on a vulnerability assessment taken at the time they entered the non-congregate site,” Robinson said, which also prioritizes dwellers of Sebastopol and west county. “And people that are selected are ready for housing and eager to improve their conditions.”

The county’s Accessing Coordinated Care and Empowering Self Sufficiency (ACCESS) Sonoma Initiative will arrange “individualized, integrated” services supporting the incoming townspeople, like primary healthcare and behavioral health services, food and economic assistance, job training and transportation to appointments, Robinson said.

In addition to medical services, residents will receive breakfast, lunch and dinner on-site and White Star Security will monitor the property, Robinson said.

Disaster Emergency Medical Assistance (DEMA) will run a tight ship but one that emphasizes the dignity and holistic needs of its residents at the Sebastopol Inn, according to Michelle Patino, longtime registered nurse and owner of DEMA.

DEMA will serve as the interim medical provider for the Sebastopol Inn, on top of servicing NCS sites in the county, Robinson said. Patino said DEMA operates a nursing care model with staff on-site 24 hours a day, seven days a week, among them registered nurses, paramedics, emergency department technicians and other professionals in community health.

The agency also sends a medical director and a physician provider to each site at least two to three days a week, she said, offering telemedicine, on-call services at any time and a case manager RN, though ACCESS provides case management for the sites.

“One of the other aspects that we provide at DEMA that we really, really believe in is a whole-person care. I believe every individual in our community, whether they’re homeless or not homeless deserves to be treated as a whole person, and that includes mental health, emotional health and physiological medical health,” she said.

The new neighbors get to participate in activities led by a program director like art, gardening, a movie night, community volunteer work and an outdoor hair salon, according to the presentation given to the Sebastopol City Council.

While some meeting attendees expressed concerns about safety and the possibility tourists may find the new residents off-putting, Robinson said sex offenders were not eligible for the program and residents must agree to certain rules to live at the inn. No alcohol, drugs or weapons are permitted on-site and residents are searched when they enter the property, according to Patino. She said her staff was trained in de-escalation and rarely needed to call for backup from police.

Patino said DEMA is unique in that her team doesn’t view unsheltered individuals like what’s shown on TV.

“We look at this community as community members. Many people in this community want the opportunity to better themselves. They want to get back on track. They’ve fallen into hard times that have placed them in these situations,” she said. “And we want to allow them the opportunity to become productive members back into our community again.”

Visitors aren’t allowed currently because of COVID-19 restrictions, but generally, Sebastopol Inn residents may receive visitors in compliance with certain regulations, Robinson said. According to Patino, anyone referred to an NCS site receives COVID-19 testing at the Alternate Care Site in Healdsburg. DEMA’s staff screens residents frequently and none of its sites have experienced an outbreak, she said.

What happens post-pandemic?

When COVID-19 is no longer an emergency, the Sebastopol Inn will transition from interim housing to more formalized permanent supportive housing. The county intends to launch a Request for Proposal (RFP) process to choose service providers to assume property management, security, food services and medical care, according to Robinson. 

She said she had a preliminary conversation with Tim Miller, executive director of West County Community Services (WCCS). “And I’m sure that Tim will be highly competitive in the RFP process given his long-standing work and accomplishments in west county and supporting populations that we’re trying to serve in this permanent supportive housing development.”

Additionally, the director of health services said the county seeks local food service vendors to partner with to provide meals for the residents.

Business owners find fault in Sebastopol Inn plans, others voice support

Several business owners and community members said they were dissatisfied or uncertain about how the Sebastopol Inn project could impact the Gravenstein Station marketplace next door and the Barlow across the street.

“I’m concerned that putting a homeless shelter in a downtown business area of a town that thrives on tourism is almost certain to have many negative effects. And city council members and the board of supervisors, how many business failures is acceptable?” Brian Flath asked.

Meanwhile, Kate Haug called for Gravenstein Station businesses to be reimbursed, which Flath also suggested.

Coffee Catz owner Debby Meagher said, “I’ve been there for 28 years and I applaud having homeless, but through having COVID and then this has really been detrimental to my business, together.”

She said the burden of running the cafe by herself was too much, so she’s trying to sell her shop.

“People don’t necessarily want to buy Coffee Catz because of this impending shelter behind Coffee Catz,” her daughter Keli Meagher said, adding they were concerned about the security of the Gravenstein Station’s customers.

Many expressed support for the housing effort, like Gale Johnstone Brownell.

“I’m really excited about what it will mean for people. I think generally speaking, when you provide housing and services to people who have been unhoused, they appreciate it greatly and their behaviors that have been previously unsavory sometimes generally improve,” she said.

Another attendee said she lost housing in Sebastopol following devastating life events and once stayed at the Sebastopol Inn after she became sick, living in her car.

“I’m a different face of homeless, and I accepted the county’s help and assistance as a COVID-vulnerable person, with the assistance at Sonoma State and now at Alliance Redwoods. Through this whole-person care and trust, mutually, I’ve been able to move forward to get SSI to start to try to deal with my trauma,” she said.

She mentioned receiving a Section 8 housing voucher. “In the meantime, I’m better suited to be in Sebastopol than underneath the redwoods in the rainy season. I’m advocating to move to the Sebastopol Inn much sooner than later.”

Although some attendees were concerned about the property maintaining a respectable aesthetic, Patino said the Sebastopol Inn was not a homeless shelter.

“These are their homes. People who have homes and places to reside, they take pride in that. They clean. At the Astro (Hotel), we have a cleaning day, and then they come and they all show us how well they’ve done on their rooms. They're proud of it,” she said. “And it will continue, and it will start at your site as well.”

5th District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins quoted Theodore Roosevelt, saying, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” She said the project was that first, right move and that inaction was not an option, noting homelessness has increased in Sebastopol in recent years.

Hopkins said the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to buy and acquire the Sebastopol Inn Tuesday morning, as well as funds for Sebastopol “to the

tune of $370,000 for increased outreach and service provision,” allowing the city to decide much of how those dollars are spent on homelessness issues.

She said the contribution was part of the county’s effort to address the loss of transient occupancy tax revenue from the Sebastopol Inn with potential one-time money.

The council agreed that Mayor Una Glass and Councilmember Patrick Slayter will track project updates from the county as the city council’s housing subcommittee.

While nearly half of the homeless population in the U.S. lives in California, Robinson said, Sonoma County officials, service providers and formerly unsheltered neighbors get into position this December for permanent supportive housing in Sebastopol.

(5) comments

Billkrawetz

The purchase of these hotels demonstrates the County has no idea what they are doing. This is really a feel good, make the County look good project that does little to solve the homeless problem. Spending $10.3m to purchase a 31 room hotel, works out to $332K per room. That is effectively more costly than buying a house in Sebastopol. The County estimates the on-going annual operational costs of the 2 homeless hotels at $4.6m to support approximately 73 residences, or approximately $63K per person per year! Compare this to the median Sonoma County household of 2.57person with a total income of $83K. That works out to $32K to support each person, or roughly 50% what the County will spend to support the homeless residences (It’s actually much worse when you consider the average residence has to make a rent/house payment out of their $32K).

With over 3,000 homeless people in Sonoma County, providing housing and support for 31 people/1% of these folks, is both unaffordable and doesn’t solve the larger overall problem.

Sonoma County’s goal is establishing 1,000 permanent supportive housing units. If this project is an example, the County would need to spend $322m upfront and $63m annual. And that’s only a 3rd of the homeless population.

Finally I can’t see how consolidating all the homeless in an area, like the downtown Santa Rosa district and now in Sebastopol Barlow district is good for those area’s or the homeless. No business would want to locate there, no resident would like to locate there, and for the homeless being around only other homeless might not be the best environment to gain a path back to normalcy.

Charlette Rose

The County andvSebadtopil are Already backtracking on facility intention! As a nearby homeowner, concerned for importing alcohol and drug users, we were told not to worry. We were assured facility would not house alcohol or drug users, this is a direct quote from latest town council meeting and states that alcoholic and drug users will be housed as well as those with mental health issues. “Sebastopol Inn may house more than 31 people, since some may be couples and families. Residency selection will prioritize homeless community members currently living at the county’s non-congregate sites (NCS), aged 65 and older and/or who have chronic or serious health issues, like cancer, diabetes, COPD and mental health and substance abuse issues, Robinson said.” These past months I’ve been soul searching and trying embrace opening up idea. Trying to calm my concerns with the impact of this facility on the safety of the neighborhood I live in. But once again, I’m very skeptical that much good will come of this. I’ve lived with family members who are drug and alcohol addicts and have seen the great harm they do. Shame on the county council for disregarding concerns for the people living downtown and the local businesses. I pray I’m proven wrong.

lipking39

Dumb move if you ask me. Glad I'm not in business nearby....

olivermarks

I requested an agenda item on this council meeting about the hotel which was denied, but my slides were included in the meeting information package.

Although 'participation is the cornerstone of our community' there was no citizen debate, only 2 minute public comments in a 4 hour meeting where we heard councillors musing over the canned presentation the county put on as if they had done no research or were aware of the nuances involved.

The county have essentially self selected and commandeered the hotel and land, which backs onto the county owned Joe Rodota Trail, which means Sebastopol just got a little smaller...although it is very unclear where the county's new hotel room housing compound ends and the city of Sebastopol begins.

We heard that the inhabitants will have two security guards 24 hours a day to protect them from the outside world, 3 meals a day, bingo sessions and art walls...all for perhaps 50 people out of the rapidly increasing economic disaster homeless who are being evicted and housing repossessed as I type this.

While this entire escapade evades any sort of broader logic perhaps once the federal disaster relief funds that were repurposed into AB85/'Homekey' by the state runs out in 2021 the BoC and county will sober up and start thinking about housing the many hard working local people who are priced out of the housing market in their compound and find other county land and resources to house the people tax payers (including our hard working local people!) pay to care for.

I have long advocated for tiny homes on county land and infrastructure for the three distinct groups - the mentally ill, substance abuse casualties and the indigent, who all need very different resources.

We need large scale help for our rapidly increasing unhoused population, not cute political vanity projects that greatly enrich the 'non profit' homeless industry while making life for local businesses even harder.

MKH

You might also note that the County wrote a grant that entitled them to disregard our local permitting process, they applied for a project where they didn't have to follow local rules. The County bypassed all normal permitting processes, which all other residents have to follow. Supervisor Hopkins gave herself autocratic control. The grant was entirely self-selecting meaning that Supervisor Hopkins chose to apply and give herself this power.

The Hotel Azure was appraised at $4.9 million. The County bought it for over $7.9 million. The property was purchased in 2010 for $285,000. This represents an incredible profit of over $7,00,000 in just 10 years. These sold two hotels during a pandemic - not at appraised value but significantly above. Typically, mortgages are based on appraised value, not pandemic magic money. No one except the state could have purchased these hotels at these prices because they wouldn't be able to get financing. No one except the state would have purchased at these prices because it makes no sense. One has to wonder if these investors will later donate to Supervisor Hopkin's future campaigns. It makes sense that they would want to express their gratitude for such a wonderful price on their hotels.

In the presentation, the County called the rooms "housing units" instead of hotel rooms. This indicates the County's ability to magically turn a hotel room into a "housing unit". No other entity could do that - no private individual would have been able to convert a hotel into housing without going through extensive permitting changes. As people permanently living in an area have much different impact that tourists. The Sebastopol Inn was a no-smoking facility. How will it impact surrounding businesses if it turns into a residence with 30 smokers? The Sebastopol Inn had a no pet policy. How will it impact businesses in half the residents have dogs? Are there plans for a pet elimination area?

There is an economic paradox or conundrum with the Sebastopol Inn as it is County owned and County run but its residents will be using City of Sebastopol public services - water, sewer, parks,fire, police etc.

Typically, there are impact fees paid by developers that contribute to off-setting this increased use of service. In addition, when a property changes hands, there is usually an increase in property tax. If a private entity would have purchased the Sebastopol Inn there would be a significant increase in Property Tax revenue as the property was purchased for over $6.3. I'm assuming the County is not paying property tax on the Inn.

The County just gave the City of Sebastopol and its residents a part-time job as now people will be participating and managing a project that was imposed on the community by the County. For instance, if the City's Planning Department works on mitigation is the City reimbursed. Obviously, it is crucial that the Planning Department participate and collaborate but it is an unexpected, unchosen expense.

This project will cost at minimum $744,000 to run annually. While I was listening to the presentation, I couldn't help but wish this suite of benefits could be extended to our working people. I would love to see the people working in the Barlow, on Main Street, in our schools, in our grocery stores - people who make minimum wage - get the same access to health care, housing stability and food security. We need to rebalance our budget and start to support our working poor with the same level of benefits and service that we deed toward our homeless population. This was a great deal for the owners of these hotels. It's a great political move by Supervisor Hopkins. It is marginal at best for our homeless population. The rooms cost $200K purchase price plus renovations bringing up to $258,000 per room. With the same amount of money you could install 25 tiny homes or 25 RV pads with hookups on land taxpayers already own. They could have housed 800 people instead of 31 for the same money....Time will tell how it works out for the City of Sebastopol. Frankly, the whole thing is a bit fishy, especially the overpayment to the owners of the hotels. Why would the County do that?

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.