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Jack Tibbetts shows off a spartan, but clean room at the former Gold Coin Motel.
photo credit: Marc Albert/KRCB
Sonoma County's chapter of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is firing back at the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, accusing two of the paper's reporters of painting a misleading picture of a run-down motel slated for reconstruction into affordable housing.  
 
Jack Tibbetts is executive director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul District Council of Sonoma County. Until December, he also held a seat on Santa Rosa's city council. In a post on Tibbett's Facebook page, he accused the newspaper of 'dishonest, biased, and unethical' practices in a story focused on living conditions at a defunct motel slated to permanently house 54 homeless families.
  
While on one hand disputing complaints of lax maintenance and security, Tibbetts also said he gets it.
  
"I'm sure that the people who are frustrated most by the amount of time it's taken to get where we are today are the people who live here."
  
Across US 101 from The Sandman, a similar, post-World War II motel from the chrome, fins and 'motoring'-era, now retro-chic lodging, the Gold Coin couldn't be more different. Peeling paint, collapsing roofs, a few boarded up windows, it's hardly a spot for vacationers. Acquired by St. Vincent de Paul just more than two years ago, conditions upon change of ownership in some occupied rooms were squalid, Tibbetts said.
 
"When we opened the door about ten cockroaches fell to the ground and you went inside and the paint was peeling off the walls, there was missing laminate flooring and there was just a mattress in the middle of the room, and it was just black, there was no sheets, just, they had been sleeping on the mattress, and that image will stay with me for the rest of my life."
 
Inspectors red-tagged the motel. Tibbetts says his organization halted evictions set in motion by the previous owners, and made stop-gap repairs as they await funds for complete renovation. "We told them that we would invest some money to make the units nicer than they were under the previous ownership. We've made good on that promise, we also told folks that until we get to the final, new development stage, where we have completely, freshly renovated apartments, this is not going to be permanent supportive housing, this is not going to be assisted living," he said. 
 
Rooms were tidied up and fresh paint was added, but no one would mistake this place for the Ritz.
  
Though police have been called to the site repeatedly over the last two years, the number is just a fraction of what it was in the old days, Tibbetts says. 
Although two years have elapsed, Tibbetts remains committed. "The things that excited us the most was it was the opportunity to take what was probably the single, most crime-ridden property in the city of Santa Rosa, acquire it and turn it into homeless dedicated housing for a price tag that didn't exceed two hundred and fifty thousand dollars per unit."
  
While that appears a staggering figure, Tibbetts says affordable units built from the ground up are costing $600,000-$650,000 per unit.
  
Prior to the purchase, an appraisal found the dilapidated structures worthless, Tibbetts said, but the parcel was valued at $3 million anyway, due to the lot's size and location.
 
The long wait for fruition though, may end soon. St. Vincent's is awaiting word on millions from Sacramento under 'Project Homekey.' That's a recent program pushed by Governor Gavin Newsom that provides funding to rehab janky motels into affordable, supportive housing. Tibbetts is fairly confident the money will arrive within weeks.
  
"If we are able to obtain the Homekey funding, we will probably be beginning construction May 1st, latest, June 1st, so that's why we are very, very hopeful that that goes through. If it doesn't, we're a little bit back to square one and we're going to have to apply for a conventional construction loan from a local bank."
  
Barring that, St Vincent's would fundraise---something Tibbetts estimates would leave the project in limbo for another two years.
  
Plans call for toaster ovens, microwaves and a hot-plate in each unit, along with a manager living on-site. A street-facing defunct restaurant is slated to become a commercial kitchen, providing meals for residents at the motel and other sites, along with employment.
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