The intended sale of a 13-acre Guerneville campground in a redwood canyon near Armstrong Woods has public officials and social service providers scrambling to find a way to ensure that 50 people who live there aren’t left out in the cold.
The Faerie Ring Campground, in foreclosure since earlier this year, goes back on the auction block Saturday after two previous auctions failed to draw a successful offer. The opening bid is $359,940, according to online auctioneers Hudson & Marshall. Its list price is $599,900.
The prospect of a sale has campground residents, many of them low-income, in limbo. Some say they don’t know where they’d go if forced to leave, though for several months they’ve lived rent-free, absent formal management in place.
“Everybody’s worried about what’s going to happen,” said one resident, Sandra Lambert, 57.
She has lived for 16 years in an aging trailer parked at a hillside site with her husband, surviving lately on her wages as a part-time taxicab dispatcher.
Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, who represents the area, is hoping to persuade Chase Bank to postpone any additional sales activity. She wants the bank to hold off until county officials, perhaps in partnership with a local nonprofit, can determine if someone can buy the land and maintain it for use at affordable rates. Chase has owned the land since foreclosing on former owner Jim Friedman.
“In my opinion, it would be a catastrophe if people were to be displaced from the Faerie Ring Campground,” Hopkins said. “I really think that a lot of the folks that live there have no other choice, and I’m really concerned that some would be homeless.”
The lower Russian River already struggles with how to serve a large number of people who are experiencing homelessness, though the most recent countywide census showed a substantial drop, from 248 to 214 in unincorporated west county.
But officials and local advocates don’t want to jeopardize what progress has been made despite several controversial and, ultimately, failed efforts by the county and West County Community Services to partner on a new shelter and permanent housing.
The result, however, is that about $1.2 million in county funds set aside to address homelessness on the lower Russian River remains unspent. Some portion of it could be made available to facilitate a purchase of the campground that would avert evictions, Hopkins said.
Community Development Director Margaret Van Vliet said a county loan to WCCS so it can purchase the property is among the considerations.
Any such move would require significant investigation of the property and its liabilities, not yet begun, as well as approval by the county Board of Supervisors.
“We are coming to realize how many vulnerable people are living there and why having them displaced could be hugely problematic,” Van Vliet said.
But communication is difficult. The listed broker for the site, Anna Harris, said she could not speak about the property but only relay inquiries to Chase, which has not responded directly to The Press Democrat.
The bank has been trying since April to sell the site, first at a live auction in April that brought no bids and then with an online auction a few weeks ago that yielded a high bid of $365,000.