Activists pressing demands to help Hotel Petaluma tenants
Published: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at 8:03 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at 8:03 a.m.
Low-income tenants facing eviction from Hotel Petaluma have turned to Occupy activists to press their demands for assistance.
The former single-room occupancy residence changed hands in October after the previous owner lost the 1923 building to his lender. The new owner, Terry Andrews of Marin County, initially said he planned only to renovate the building.
But last month, he decided to return the Petaluma to its roots as a traditional hotel, issuing eviction notices to the 104 tenants.
Although not officially low-income housing, the hotel has traditionally housed tenants of lesser means. The small rooms, which have no kitchens, have rented from $200 to $795 a month. Many share bathrooms.
Some tenants lived there short term, while others stayed for years. With little management oversight, the hotel gained a reputation for having a dodgy clientele.
An Occupy Santa Rosa offshoot called Sonoma County Solidarity Network delivered to Andrews last week a "list of demands" that seeks relocation funds, the guaranteed return of rental deposits and the option for tenants to stay at the hotel at their current rent.
The activists are planning to picket in front of the hotel Wednesday at noon.
Andrews said he is complying with all laws in asking the tenants to leave. He said his staff is issuing the return of most deposits the same day the tenants move out, earlier than the law requires.
About 15 or 20 tenants are represented by the Solidarity Network, group spokesman Carl Patrick said.
He didn't dispute Andrews' assertion that he is acting lawfully. But he said Andrews should do more.
"He's upending people's lives and he doesn't have to," Patrick said. "He's doing it to gentrify downtown Petaluma and to try to make a killing off this building that has been people's homes forever. It's the responsible thing to do."
Patrick said if Andrews doesn't pony up with financial assistance, "he's going to be single-handedly responsible for worsening poverty. . . . It's the least he could do as a wealthy man, to provide some kind of assistance. It would be irresponsible not do that."
Andrews said he met with Solidarity Network representatives and those from the city last week to determine what assistance may be available to the tenants. Petaluma People Services Center has already helped some tenants move into newer, subsidized housing.
Andrews said he doesn't feel obligated to find -- or foot the bill for -- the tenants' new residences or to allow them to continue living there beyond their eviction dates, the last of which are set for April 15.
The demands may buy the tenants legal leverage, Patrick acknowledged. He said Andrews may be more amenable to spending money up front than to bother with the time, hassle and expense of going through legal proceedings to forcibly evict tenants who refuse to leave.
"Some people don't feel like they should have to move," he said. "They didn't do anything wrong. They've been paying more money (in higher rents) for no reason, other than to make Terrance more money for himself."
Some rooms at the hotel have already been converted to daily rentals that book for $65 to $90 a night. Andrews said he plans to renovate all the rooms by this summer. He also plans to open a bakery in a space currently occupied by a nail salon on the ground floor.
A community meeting has been scheduled for 6 p.m. March 26 at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church for residents who want to support the tenants, Patrick said.
You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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