Residents demand action after propane tank explodes at Santa Rosa homeless camp

Thursday, January 2, 2020
Questions surface after propane tank explodes at Santa Rosa homeless camp
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Sonoma County officials are facing questions about what's being done to address concerns over safety on the Joe Rodota Trail after a propane tank exploded at a nearby homeless camp.

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) -- Residents are demanding answers and action after a propane tank exploded and sparked a fire at a homeless camp, which is along an eight mile trail that links downtown Santa Rosa and Sebastopol. It's a place neighbors say they are afraid to use anymore. Now, one city supervisor tells ABC7 News how he and others are trying to clean up the area in an effort to build a Better Bay Area.

If you read the signs on fences, posts, and walls, it becomes clear that Brittain Lane in Santa Rosa is a neighborhood that has pulled back it's welcome mat. You might do the same if you lived next door to a mile-long homeless encampment on the Joe Rodota Trail.

"They've been here four plus years," mused Jason Kindle.

Lino Musso added, "It's not what I signed up for." He's talking about scenes like the one seen outside his back door on Monday night, as a series of propane explosions in the encampment shattered any relative calm.

"I look out my door," he said. "The flames are 12 feet high. Another tank is exploding."

RELATED: Sonoma County Supervisors vote on $11.6 million plan to help homeless living on biking trail

The Joe Rodota Trail has become the face for Santa Rosa's worsening homeless problem. It sits on county land, wedged between Santa Rosa on one side and a state highway on the other. The neighbors feel as if they're living a form of exasperated limbo.

"I don't feel safe," said Jon George. "My wife doesn't feel safe. I have three kids. They can't play here."

Alan Caulfield, who has lived there for a dozen years, added, "I wouldn't take the biggest dog I have on that trail right now."

On Wednesday, Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins looked around and listened to neighbors.

"I honestly see a failure of government to address a crisis," she said.

The county has declared a disaster area and pledged almost $12 million to clean it up by moving Joe Rodota homeless into shelters. But the timeline for that extends months.

Hopkins and nearby neighbors want something done in weeks, if not yesterday.

RELATED: Sonoma County declares homeless emergency along popular public trail

"Give me a month," she said. "The neighbors are taking way too much responsibility and too much of the burden. It is unfair to have 200 people concentrated in a residential area on a public trail."

We can call that, not so much a New Year's resolution as intention. It's a high minded goal still shrouded in the mystery of how, exactly, city and county governments can get the job done.

Take a look at all of ABC7's Building a Better Bay Area stories and videos here.