Nevada City’s council opts against ‘shelter crisis,’ delays program to employ, house homeless
Nevada City council woman Reinette Senum and homeless advocate Pauli Halstead have an ambitious plan.
Place a dozen Tuff Sheds on property owned by Halstead where clients who have been homeless and in the criminal justice system can live, in return for participating in a two-year program where they learn job skills, receive therapy or addiction treatment if needed, all while working to restore forests and watersheds.
Senum presented the Restoration Rangers Program, which she called a win-win for the city, the homeless, and homeowners in need, at Wednesday’s Nevada City council meeting.
The project drew near-unanimous approval from the audience in attendance, But the “linchpin” for the plan moving forward — an emergency declaration of a shelter crisis — foundered over legal concerns from fellow council members and the city’s attorney.
The entire issue was punted pending further staff analysis, and will return to the council at a future date.
According to Halstead, she and Senum met with City Manager Catrina Olson and City Planner Amy Wolfson months ago, outlining the whole program.
“They were very supportive of the idea at that time,” she said. “Since my property is in the Light Industrial Zone, and an emergency shelter is already a permitted use, (Wolfson) said she would give the project the emergency shelter designation, thus no need for a Conditional Use Permit.”
A furious Halstead thought she had the blessing of city staff and felt blindsided by their perceived lack of support during the council meeting.
Senum was more equivocal, saying staff will investigate other options.
“The city council in the end ultimately said they are not against the idea, just need to figure out how to do it and ensure the city is not liable,” she said. “The door is still open. This is in no way over.”
Restoration Rangers, explained
The program is about “restoring individual lives and protecting community one watershed at a time,” Senum said.
The two-year program includes 24/7 supervision on-site, wrap-around services, three-tiered stipends for participants, and skills training in a variety of different fields related to forest and watershed restoration (with the emphasis on fire mitigation).
The trained labor force will be the “boots on the ground” in reducing extreme fire risk while restoring our surrounding environs throughout western Nevada County, Senum said. Proposed services could include pruning, mastication, chipping, goat grazing, hazardous tree removal, pile burning, property clearing, and replanting native plants and trees.
The program would address three major issues in Nevada County, Senum said: High fire risk in unhealthy forests, a high recidivism rate of mentally ill and addicted offenders, and homelessness.
A maximum of 12 trainees would be referred, possibly from Nevada County Probation and from Hospitality House. They would first need to make it through an interview and a physical, as well as a month-long orientation, Senum said.
During the first 21 days, participants would go through a needs assessment, develop a plan, and go through basic job training. Hospitality House would function as the service provider, coordinating case management. Participants would then begin working 35 hours a week, Senum said. In last month of the program, they would transition into securing permanent housing and employment.
Senum envisions the housing units being sponsored by local nonprofits or businesses, with the compound being self-policed with set curfews. She said the program would be self-sustaining, with payment for the work being done covering the costs to run the site. The “microhouses” would be on a property owned by Halstead, at 606 Gold Flat Road, with an existing residence on the property used for office space, bathrooms and a kitchen. There would also be a community garden on the property.
Senum said she wants to establish two separate stakeholder committees, to establish a watershed resilience program and for the Restoration Rangers program.
Most of the audience in attendance reacted positively to the proposal.
Denise Dellasantina of Sierra Streams noted an “almost untenable amount of unmanaged woodland” in Nevada County, adding that it is extremely challenging to find crews to do mitigation work.
Realtor Steve DeSena, however, called the plan “grandiose.” DeSena said Gold Flat Road is the wrong location, suggesting reaching out to Cal Fire for a better space.
“You’re going to get push-back on this,” he warned.
Discussion stalls out
Before Senum and Halstead move ahead with solidifying partnerships and creating a business plan, they told the council it needed to declare a shelter crisis in order to side-step building code requirements.
“Approving a shelter crisis within Nevada City will allow for converted Tuff Sheds as temporary shelter,” Senum said.
But according to the city’s attorney, language in the government code only allows such a use on city-owned or city-leased property, not private property.
Senum argued the city of Chico recently amended their ordinances to allow a similar program on private property. But fellow council member Duane Strawser said it was not an equivalent situation, since Chico was creating emergency housing for displaced fire victims.
Senum told her fellow council members she is willing to work to answer their questions and find the best solution.
“But I’m not willing to do nothing,” she said, adding she is open to a different site but that Halstead’s property is what has been made available.
“I need a better understanding as to what we’re getting into,” Strawser replied.
Mayor David Parker asked if declaring a shelter crisis would work if the city leased the property. The answer was yes, but would make the city liable for any issues that could arise.
“I was trying to avoid that,” Senum said.
The council voted against making a declaration of a shelter crisis and instead directed staff to look into other options, including a conditional use permit.
Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at email@example.com.
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