LETTER - Guerneville Center Street Project
RE: Four-Plex on Center Street, Guerneville - Dennis Judd project
East Guernewood Park is a sleepy community of single family homes located on the Russian River. Idyllic, nestled amongst the redwoods, the community encourages a live and let live approach to life. Then came the bump in the night. Like the towering redwoods, the problem began small and grew slowly, shutting out the glare of public scrutiny, and threatening to topple and damage the community from winds of greed and corruption. This is a story of an absentee landlord, a greedy developer, a corrupt politician, and the community that will suffer from his abuse of power.
Guernewood Park was first subdivided in the 1920s. The house at 16680 Center Way was built in 1947 as a single family dwelling. Over the years the house was converted to a duplex and finally to a fourplex. The illegal conversions made economic sense in the context of vacation rentals. The vacationers spent time at the river and those few permanent residents knew they were in a vacation paradise.
Sonoma County grew up. More people came to the Russian River as permanent residents and the County passed zoning restrictions. Guernewood Park was zoned for single family homes at a density of four units per acre. Due to its small lot, the fourplex was a four family home at a density of forty units per acre. The ten fold increase in density would never be allowed today, but was grandfathered in as a “legal nonconforming” structure because it existed when the zoning restrictions were enacted.
Four permanent families were a disaster. Building Department records are full of complaints and code violations. The building fell into disrepair, tenants were evicted, utilities shut off and the structure was condemned.
The County has an orderly process for dealing with legal nonconforming buildings. If they are unused for more than a year, then they revert back to having to meet zoning requirements. The Yellow House was unused for more than a year. Utility records document it and neighbors remember it.
Decay breeds opportunity and opportunity can go one of two ways. In this case, greed and corruption took center stage. There are developers in the County that pray on distressed properties and know how to manipulate “The System”. They know how to use public funds to line their own pockets and how to bend the rules to their advantage, wreaking havoc on the communities that are the true victims.
D Judd Apartments LLC purchased the Yellow House for $90,000 as a “tear down”. His contractor, Tom Lynch, took out a permit for $5,000 of work to fix code violations. Now, at $5,000, nobody at the Building Department was paying attention to zoning issues. When the Building Department realized its mistake, it began backpedaling and trying to justify its actions, first citing County Code, then State Code, then Affordable Housing. As each legal argument was shot down through the appeal process, the Building Department was left with only political arguments. It was better to protect the developer at the expense of the community.
The final blow came when the appeal went before the Board of Supervisors. Efren Carrillo, Supervisor for District 5, made a decision that was stunning in its lack of intelligence. County Code 26-94-030 clearly and unambiguously says that the property owner is required to prove that the property did not lose its legal nonconforming status. Supervisor Carrillo ignored the code and ruled in favor of the developer. Supervisor Carrillo is not stupid. The only conclusion is that Efren Carrillo has, once again, supported developers over the interests of the community.
Linda Johns, Guerneville
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