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Interviews provide insight into SDC’s future

Interviews provide insight into SDC’s future

APRIL 15, 2021

Twenty knowledgeable people discussed considerations for Specific Plan last year

By Jay Gamel

“Key informants” — people whose education, background, experience, and knowledge place them in a position to provide insight into what may or may not work in planning for future development and disposition of the former Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) that was closed in 2018 — were interviewed from June to December 2020. A summary of those interviews was released on April 1 of this year.

Keep in mind that the interview report surveys opinions: “While key informants are knowledgeable in their fields, their opinions (e.g., relating to market or environmental conditions) should not be taken as facts or endorsements by the SDC Specific Plan planning team,” the report says.

The report also states that “the objective of these meetings was to gain insight from local experts on topics that would inform the development of alternatives and ultimately the SDC Specific Plan.”

Permit Sonoma, which is guiding the development of a Specific Plan for acquiring and SDC Insights – continued from page 1

developing the 945-acre property, is currently formulating at least three alternative scenarios that will be considered by the county Board of Supervisors in the next few months.

Those interviewed were “state, regional, and local experts in a variety of topics relevant to the specific planning process, including land use, mobility, housing, conservation and open space, community facilities, and safety,” according to the report.

While the state has promised that about 700 acres of wildland property will remain open, it has so far resisted any attempt to transfer ownership of those acres.

Interviews with representatives of the State Department of General Services (DGS), which is responsible for disposing of the property for California, were clear that “the open space cannot be separated from the core campus until issues relating to water supply and associated infrastructure that are an integral part of the open space are addressed.”

The SDC’s water rights are considered to be a very valuable asset. The property encompasses Lake Suttonfield and a smaller reservoir, both man-made and important for fire protection as well as drinking water. The water filtration plant is shuttered, and the sanitation processing plant needs a variety of upgrades. There is enough water on site to take care of future demands.

As for site development, the state’s preliminary agreement with the county calls for a major housing element in any plan, particularly for disabled persons and low-income residents, though market-rate development or even a hotel are possible.

Economic feasibility is a big part of the state’s concern, and the dilapidated state of the 185-acre developed campus “came up in all conversations as the largest roadblock to financial feasibility” of redevelopment of the site.

Potential revenues could be obtained from selling water, as well as recreational, agricultural, and equestrian uses. A proposal to use the open lands for a major equestrian center has been floated for years.

The DGS real estate representatives also noted that there is a “huge need and demand” for all types of housing, with severe shortages of affordable housing and an “unmet” demand for market-rate properties.

Suggestions from the panel ranged from 20 to 40 units per acre, perhaps using a centralized garage for parking.

The high cost of building could be ameliorated with a streamlined environmental review process, making it “easy for developers to acquire entitlements.”

Several real estate and development professionals suggested that a master developer “would be a good choice, since larger developers have more ability to cope with the complex financing involved with rehabilitating and building infrastructure.”

Getting to and from the site is also problematic, with access limited to Arnold Dr., passing through Glen Ellen and Eldridge. A direct connection to Hwy. 12 could provide regional access, better emergency facilitation, and lessen the impact on Arnold Dr.

Developing adequate bicycle and pedestrian lanes along Arnold Dr. is also troublesome, considering its width and the difficulties involved in widening it. There is only one public transit line currently connecting to the property, with about 90-minute waits between buses.

Open spaces and wildlands are considered one of the most attractive elements of the property, and all suggestions were to keep it pristine. “Active recreation at the site should be concentrated in the developed core campus, leaving the rest of the site available for passive recreation and trail systems.” A new trail system should consolidate the many unofficial trails that were blazed over the last century of habitation.

Watershed management should include restoration of Sonoma Creek where it passes through the property. Groundwater depletion could also become a problem that needs addressing.

The 20 people interviewed have extensive backgrounds in real estate, development, affordable housing, commercial and hotel development, trail and advisory commissions, water and groundwater management, land management, as well as transit and ecological sciences.

The 16-page “Key Informant Interviews

Report” was made available on April 1 and can be read or downloaded at www.sdcspecificplan.com.

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