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Opposition to the Columbia Inn Purchase

The Columbia Chamber of Commerce strongly opposes the purchase of the Columbia Inn. Its 24 rooms and location are not adequate to address the homelessness in Tuolumne County.

Columbia’s community of 2,661 residents lacks social service programs such as medical, mental health, substance abuse, domestic abuse, and sex offender treatments, dental services, a pharmacy, affordable grocery stores, regular public transportation, and the employment that the homeless need. Columbia Inn’s location will only increase the homeless person’s challenge to become self-sufficient because Columbia is isolated from public services. Cost of transit and the walking distance to Sonora will impede them. Simply providing a motel room without a kitchen only offers temporary shelter.

Columbia Chamber of Commerce has received many calls of concern. The Columbia Inn is less than 500 feet from the elementary school, the State Historic Park, a low-income housing complex, and a senior living park. Many people have expressed concern for public safety, vandalism, and trespassing. The State Park has had to close restrooms because of vandalism and a fire set by someone seeking shelter and warmth. A transient person caused the December 2012 fire at Columbia House Restaurant. This acquisition does not mention how they will increase law enforcement, fire protection, and security to ensure the public’s safety, especially the children. As it is, law enforcement struggles with monitoring sex offenders. Other than two State Park Rangers, Columbia relies on the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Department in Sonora.

A growing homeless environment in Columbia without adequate housing could have a devastating impact on tourism which supports small businesses and the local economy. School groups and families will stop coming if they do not feel safe. Local business owners have already received counterfeit money, found drug paraphernalia, and had to clean up human waste around their establishments due to existing homelessness. In essence, this proposed project could turn Columbia into a ghost town as the current resources cannot support this endeavor.

We ask the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors to consider these questions:

  1. Will District fire protection and law enforcement increase?
  2. Where do homeless people go when all 24 rooms and the Navigation Center is full?
  3. Where can visitors lodge overnight since the State Park lodging only has 28 rooms which are booked during events and holidays? The Columbia Inn has the only ADA lodging in town and is used by many tourist. Only a few rooms were used for low-income recipients, not all rooms. Will the county provide alternate lodging for our visitors?
  4. HHSA’s HHAP Grant application states that the Navigation Center would be “low-barrier” to include those with sobriety challenges and convicted of crimes, and that HHSA intends to guide homeless encampments to the center. Will this not pose a potential liability to the public, especially the children and elderly?
  5. What is the County’s plan to prevent homeless encampments, trash dumping, needles, waste, and panhandling in town?