The Kenwood Press
News: 08/15/2017

SDC future, September social and more at Glen Ellen Forum

Sarah C. Phelps

You may have recently noticed a new coat of paint on the Glen Ellen Grocery and the Post Office. Thank the Glen Ellen Forum. Frustrated with the slow mechanizations of county government and looking for a stronger community voice, a determined group of Glen Ellen residents created a community improvement group called the Glen Ellen Forum in October 2016. A little less than a year later, the Glen Ellen Forum is 200 members strong and has accomplished a slew of projects, like a town roads clean up day, the new paint jobs, and local traffic and speeding studies. But they want to get more done. And they need your help.

Reconvening after its summer hiatus, 60 members of the Glen Ellen Forum packed Mayflower Hall on Monday, Aug. 7. The Forum has a lot on its plate in the second half of the year. Ideas floated by community members have included a community garden, a walking and biking path, sidewalks, creating a pedestrian friendly plaza, a community podcast, and supporting and promoting local businesses. Many of the ideas and projects in the brainstorming phase can be viewed on its new website, glenellenca.org. However, the items at the top of the agenda were the status of the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) and whether the Forum should consider forming a Municipal Advisory Council.

Alice Horowitz reported on a July 6 SDC stakeholder interview she attended. These meetings are part of the assessment analysis that Wallace Robert and Todd (WRT) has undertaken as part of its contract with the state to evaluate the SDC site’s current state and potential future uses. The Forum wants to collect the community’s feedback on how they would like to see the SDC site utilized when it is shuttered at the end of 2018. Priority ideas are those that would protect open space, preserve the rural character of the community, and reduce growth and development impact. Supervisor Susan Gorin spoke about the importance she placed on creating a “complete community” on the SDC site, something that provides jobs, housing and services. Gorin encouraged people to think about what kind of industries could be placed there to keep jobs – and young people – in the valley. The SDC has been Sonoma Valley’s biggest employer for nearly 100 years.

Gorin has plans for an SDC-specific town hall meeting in late October to discuss more details. Until then, Horowitz encouraged everyone to visit the SDC page on the Forum website and submit their ideas and feedback. “How much revenue generation is needed or expected by the state? That is the big question no one yet has an answer to,” said Horowitz. There will be two more stakeholder meetings between now and December.

The second big item on the agenda was whether or not the Forum should create a Municipal Advisory Council (MAC) (see story here). At its July 18 meeting, the Board of Supervisors adopted a set of policies and procedures to facilitate the creation of MACs, touting community governance. The councils are seen as a way to get more input on specific issues like development, traffic and land use, and to bring community concerns forward or facilitate community improvement projects. The SVCAC operates very much like a MAC (although it operates in a Joint Powers Agreement with the city of Sonoma).

“I really advocated for this at our (Board of Supervisors) last strategic planning meeting, because of working with you and working with the Springs Community Alliance,” said Supervisor Susan Gorin at the meeting. Gorin is also in talks with the Springs Community Alliance about forming a MAC for the Springs area.

How will forming a MAC benefit Glen Ellen?

A few obvious benefits would come along with formal recognition by the county. They include county assistance with administrative tasks like minute taking or website management. There could also be a small budget set aside to help with the rental of a meeting space or for liability insurance. Gorin said there could also be money set aside to help with community projects like traffic calming or other infrastructure improvements. The MAC could even qualify for county grants.

A few community members expressed concern that the advisory oriented MAC might become a replacement for the informal, community focused Forum. After all, the Forum was created out of exasperation with county bureaucracy. Forum Chair Michael Furlong agreed that the MAC should serve as an extension of the Forum, not a replacement, something to “organize our priorities when dealing with the county.”

Furlong suggested the MAC could operate as a sort of committee to the Forum, but Gorin suggested the MAC’s role would carry more weight than a committee. “It is much more than that,” said Gorin. “It would be the official voice of Glen Ellen.” Gorin said it would be up to the Forum to nominate five members and she would appoint them. The members would meet monthly and receive training in things like Brown Act, policy and procedures, and conflict of interest codes.

The information about an advisory council and its duties will be available on the Forum’s website, and the group plans to vote on the decision at its next meeting in September.

The location for that meeting is yet to be determined, however, as the Forum is currently in need of a business liability insurance sponsor. Without business liability insurance (which can run $500-$700 a year) the Forum is limited as to where it can hold its meetings.

If meetings aren’t your thing, also up ahead, the Forum will hold its first Social Gathering on Friday, Sept. 15, at a private residence in Glen Ellen. Furlong encouraged everyone who is part of the community to come, to bring a friend, bring some refreshments and get to know each other in a relaxed environment. Sign up on the website to receive more details.

The Forum is still looking for more community participation and more volunteers. If you’d like to get involved or have any ideas to contribute, visit glenellenca.org and sign up on the email list.