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November 20, 2017
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Rohnert Park to hold off on adjusting camping ordinances for fire evacuees

By: Katherine Minkiewicz
October 27, 2017

 

The Rohnert Park City Council met Tuesday to discuss the possibility of temporarily changing portions of the city’s camping ordinance, as well as other housing project permitting plans in an effort to support recovery and provide shelter for fire evacuees in the wake of the destructive Sonoma Complex Fire.

While the agenda item wasn’t voted on, the council did give direction on how they want to see the camping ordinance altered. After the discussion council members decided since Santa Rosa and Sonoma County are already working towards changing their own regulations to allow RV camping in certain public places, the council will wait until these temporary RV camping locations are set up and afterwards if there is still an apparent need for evacuees to have a place to camp in RV’s then the city will act.

According to Mayor Jake Mackenzie, who sat in on a Sonoma County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday morning, Sonoma County supervisors want to use five paved sites, such as old parking lots, to house RV camping sites for evacuees.

“They also discussed urgency ordinance… on enabling temporary housing and they did in fact take action on residential use of RV and the allowances of rental of guest houses and pool houses and other accessory structures. They are looking at five county owned sites at this time (for RV camping) and are anticipating that there will be availability for residents for potential use of RV’s and travel trailers,” Mackenzie explained.

While council members supported the idea of taking similar action in Rohnert Park if there is still a need for residential RV camping spaces after Santa Rosa establishes camping sites, the council members expressed that the short-term ordinance would have to be flushed out, with issues like permits on how long evacuees could stay in an RV in a residential space.

“My concern is with the enforcement of the current code. If we open it up and we start having RV’s in improper places like city streets. Yes, I think it is a good idea, however, I would say that we need to pay attention to more enforcement and if we are going to do it, our current code should be enforced, as well as the 90 days,” Council member Amy Ahanotu said of his concerns with the idea of changing the RV camping policy.

Council member Joseph Callinan expressed similar thoughts, saying if the city were to adopt a change in the camping ordinance there needs to be more clarity and purpose to what it would outline for RV campers.

“I think there are two different issues; one, if we want to help out the people who may have a cousin or aunt who lost their house and use their motor home on the side of their house until they can get back on their feet. And then there is the issue of not enforcing the current vehicles that are parked on the streets, you can’t say we can do one and then do something different all together. But I know I don’t want to open the flood gates and let people live/park on the street, we are already seeing that issue in some spots and I wouldn’t mind doing it for 90 days on a permit basis and if we allow it we should have them come in and register and give us their name and address to prove their house got burned down and then we could let them do that (camp in an RV in a residential driveway for 90 days),” Callinan said.    

If the city eventually decides to change their own camping regulations in the future, these modifications would consist of allowing evacuees to park and camp in RVs in residential neighborhoods of friends and family, instead of being limited to only being able to camp in an RV on personal, private property. While RV camping will be allowed, car and tent camping would remain prohibited due to public health and safety concerns.

Brian Masterson, police chief for the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety, said car and tent camping safety concerns usually consist of sanitary and hygiene issues as well as an increase in car break-ins if people are sleeping in their car with valuables. 

“The biggest concerns are sanitary, hygiene and bathroom issues, where would people go for their needs? Also if people sleep in their car, sometimes people will keep the car running and carbon monoxide leaking is a concern. And if they have valuables inside there is an increased threat for robbery. There is also a concern for their pets,” Masterson explained. “A car or a tent is a temporary solution, but with an RV you have sanitary bathrooms and often a septic tank.”

According to an agenda item report prepared by Director of Development Services, Mary Grace Pawson, city staff received several requests for the city to consider the allowance of short-term RV camping throughout the various sections of Rohnert Park. 

While the temporary change could allow the accommodation of RV camping in a friend’s driveway for instance, there would be some limitations and camping conditions that must be complied with.

The RV camping will be limited to, “One recreational vehicle on a single family lot for evacuee shelter for up to 90 days,” and will be “limited to private property and will not be allowed on public streets.”

In order to obtain the camping permits, hosts of the evacuees 

‘RP Council’ see page 13

‘RP Council’ Continued from page 8

and evacuees themselves would have to demonstrate “consent of the property owners,” and the site for the parked RV must be paved and have adequate lighting and fire protection. It will also have to a liquid and solid waste removal plan and signage that declares the space as a temporary camp. 

In addition to considering altering the current camping ordinance, this agenda item discussed the deferment of the requirement for a water storage tank to be built at the Southwest Specific Plan housing development. This would speed up the process for finishing the housing development sooner than expected in order to provide more housing options for those who have lost their home in the fires.

The developer for the project was initially ordered to construct the water tank for the subdivision and was one of the needed permits to continue with building. However, after an investigation of the city’s water service, it was found that the tank wouldn’t be needed and the city’s water services provided would be adequate for the chunk of houses in the development.

According to the same agenda item report, the site — also known as the Willowglen Subdivision, already has its building plans approved but has up to 80 unbuilt lots and permit releases to finish building and are usually only released 10 at a time.

However, this alteration to the permit process will allow permits to be issued 30 at a time and will terminate the need for a water tank, actions that will help speed up the process for finishing the homes for those who may need them.

Council members seemed more supportive of this idea, as it would speed up the building process for the 80 homes and address the housing shortage which has been made even more dire due to the loss of 3,000 Santa Rosa dwelling units.

After the input and discussion amongst council members, it was found that deferring the water tank installation and increasing the permit releases to 30 at a time would be a good idea for city staff to work on in the coming months.

“The whole reason this discussion is happening is to address recovery from the fires and because we are trying to make sure we do have enough homes for people this is an opportunity… so I have no problem with it to adjusting the development agreement,” Vice Mayor Pam Stafford said of the city council’s direction on the item.

Even though it looks certain that the building of the tank will be deferred and permits will be expedited, the process via city staff to do so may take up to a couple of months to be completed.