The Kenwood Press
News: 06/15/2018

Public to weigh in on SDC site assessment

Alec Peters

A key chance is coming up for the public to give input on a consultant’s comprehensive assessment of the existing site conditions at the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC), providing an opportunity to get a clearer picture of future possibilities for the 860-acre state-owned property.

Billed as a “community workshop,” the meeting will be held on Saturday, June 23, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the Hanna Boys Center auditorium.

The SDC in Glen Ellen, home to the developmentally disabled and mentally ill since 1889, is in the process of winding down its operations and is set to close by the end of the year.

The State’s Department of General Services (DGS) is the agency responsible for the disposition of the Glen Ellen property, which includes hundreds of acres of open space, as well as a campus of 140-plus structures in various conditions, representing about 1.3 million square feet of buildings.

In April of 2017, DGS entered into a $2 million contract with national planning and design company Wallace, Roberts & Todd (WRT), to evaluate all the lands and buildings, and develop an “opportunities and constraints summary.”

WRT’s report was supposed to be completed by the end of 2017, but the timeline was disrupted by the October wildfires.

“The fires set everyone back, but we need this report to be publicly available now,” said John McCaull, Land Acquisition Program Manager for the Sonoma Land Trust. The Land Trust is part of the SDC Coalition, made up of stakeholder groups such as the Sonoma Ecology Center, the SDC’s Parent Hospital Association, and others charged with monitoring the future of the remaining patients as well the disposition of the property.

“Without comprehensive information about the condition of the SDC property and buildings,” said McCaull, “we cannot make informed decisions about reuse options. We are particularly interested in WRT’s conclusions about the various constraints – both economic and environmental – that will help us figure out what can be preserved and reused, and what areas should be protected as parks, open space, and wildlife habitat.”

As part of its study process, WRT put together a Community Advisory Committee (CAC) consisting of representatives of many local community groups. WRT met with the CAC once last September, and once this last March, in order to give input to WRT’s findings and analysis to date.

According to DGS, at the June 23 meeting WRT will share its findings for the first time with the general public. After a presentation by WRT, there will be an interactive open house of sorts, where community members can speak with the consultants about the numerous topic areas that were studied.

As of press time, no draft report or other materials were available for the public to look at. The draft is still being reviewed by state agencies.

WRT’s analysis and findings are sure to be lengthy, as consultants are looking at a wide range of areas, ranging from the property’s ecological issues to the condition of the plumbing of the entire 145-building campus.

Preliminary assessment of SDC’s infrastructure was not promising for reuse, as many systems were evaluated by WRT as being obsolete or needing significant upgrades.

The condition of the structures led one DGS official to state at a May 10 public meeting of politicians and state officials that, “It would be cheaper to tear them down and rebuild.”

What entity actually makes those kinds of decisions, and pays for them, still remains to be seen.

DGS has made it clear it has no intention of selling the SDC property, but wants the local community to drive the disposition process.

To that end, the concept of an “Eldridge Trust” is being discussed, not unlike the Presidio Trust in San Francisco. An Eldridge Trust, made up of a board of trustees and a staff, would be a nonprofit with the responsibility of deciding what to do with the property. The state would expect such an entity to be economically self-sufficient over a certain period of time.

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors recently decided to allow up to $100,000 in staff time to look at what it would take to create a trust, as well as other governance models. It’s not clear when county staff will report back to the board.