SANTA ROSA — Without warning, fencing was erected on the Joe Rodota Trail in Santa Rosa, limiting access due to a small encampment of homeless people earlier this month.
On Tuesday, a group of cyclists questioned the need for this action.
Sonoma State Parksclaiming that the encampment “prevents safe public use of the trail”.
Santa Rosa cyclist Janelle Black can’t understand what she described as a panicked reaction.
“Yeah, huge overreaction,” Black told KPIX 5. “There are always tents on the trail. I mean, they sort of move around. they’re moving people around. But there’s always the homeless on the trail.”
On Tuesday morning, a group of cyclists from the Sonoma Bicycle Coalition gathered outside the Sonoma County building to urge supervisors to reopen the trail.
They said it was unfair to pit them against the homeless when they had never called for its closure.
“The county is plagued with fears of liability for everything,” said Tom Abrams, a cyclist from Sevastopol. “So I have to assume that was at the forefront of their minds.”
On the trail, a dozen tents occupied the side of the cobblestone roadway. The rest of the space has been compressed inside the portable fence.
Two of the camp residents, Earl and Todd, were playing dice on Tuesday. They too thought it was ironic that it was the public that was excluded.
Earl said he didn’t see the danger, “No, no…dangerous? No, it’s not dangerous.”
But the pair remember 2019 when a campsite on the trail grew to more than 100 tents and around 250 people.
“It looked really bad at the time, but they waited for everyone in town to move into the same place,” Todd said. “It looked bad, the way they had to come and clean it up, but now everyone is kind of scattered.”
Todd thought the new fences were meant to prevent this from happening again.
“Yeah, they’re just trying to force us to go somewhere else,” he said.
No one from Sonoma Regional Parks would talk about it on Tuesday, but the real danger may lie in inaction.
Last time, authorities waited until the camp grew so large it cost the county a million dollars to remove it.
Supervisor Lynda Hopkins said she didn’t want to repeat that mistake.
“One of the challenges we’ve seen is that once a camp is established and there are a certain number of people, you kind of reach a threshold where it starts to snowball very quickly. , and it’s known as ‘the place to go.’ And that’s what we want to avoid,” Hopkins told KPIX 5.
Cyclists said it’s not fair to let a small number of campers restrict access to a public resource. They are urging county officials to designate a safe camping area for homeless residents.
Currently the county’s lodging space is already over capacity so they cannot legally force campers off the trail. The strategy now seems to be to isolate the encampment to try to keep it from growing.