To the Editor,
Many ideas and plans have emerged for Sonoma Development Center (SDC) over the last several years, as described by Tracy Salcedo in the Kenwood Press in its Oct. 1, 2021 issue. We all love its beauty and potential, but I repeatedly get asked, “What’s going to happen there?” My “New Town” plan is based on longheld planning principles and guided by Sonoma County’s Economic Feasibility study (See Chapter 9, Market Demand Analysis, in the SDC Specific Plan Profile and Background Report), but is only one of many approaches.
However, any plan must address several inconvenient truths:
1. The state owns the property of over 1,000 acres and 1,000,000 square feet of existing buildings, and will sell it. I know of nothing like it anywhere else in the county.
2. The state and Sonoma County Regional Parks are set to take ownership of and manage the 800 acres of open space, leaving the 200-acre “campus” remaining for sale to a private entity. The “campus” is falling apart above and below ground. Within the open space are water rights (Fern and Suttonfield Lakes) for over 1,000 acre feet, the future status of which is unclear but clearly important to Sonoma Valley.
3. SDC’s location is physically isolated in a local economy that is aging, with agriculture, hospitality, and housing (including second homes and retirement) as predominate uses. Commercial and retail uses are limited.
4. No governmental entity has shown any serious interest in the site. 5. No commercial or institutional use has shown any serious interest in even a portion of the site.
6. The economic study indicates a market and need for new housing, and there must be enough of it to pay for upgrading and replacing the existing infrastructure.
7. A hospitality use is a distant second economic possibility.
8. None of the existing buildings meet current building code, including seismic, toxics, or state Title 24 Building Code.
9. Whoever ends up buying the SDC campus after the county adopts an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and Specific Plan will probably require a long-term development agreement with the county before closing on the sale — figure another 12–18 months.
So, who will buy SDC from the state? No matter the price, we hope the buyer has many decades of successful residential experience and has multiple specialized development partners (senior housing, multi-family, mixed use, hospitality, historic renovation, nonprofit housing, etc.), all of whom have proven records and sources of long-term equity and debt.
However, we know that “hope is not a strategy,” so the main goal of the Specific Plan and community support has to be for a sufficiently “economically feasible” and “flexible” Specific Plan that can attract the most experienced, deep-pocketed, and not-afraid-of-highrisk developer. That, at least, is a strategy going forward.
To the Editor,
In the 1980s, after the Rustic Inn burned down, about half in Glen Ellen wanted an open space — a plaza and possibly a community center.
Glen Ellen still, to this day, is a town in all of California that does not have a town plaza.
There is a market with a very beautiful outdoor picnic area, and a wonderful annual Village Fair. But what this town does not have is a center—a plaza, a space that offers people the chance to come together on any given day, a community space for a weekly farmers’ market, a pathway and a duck pond, benches, a place to sit quietly and chat with a friend, watch the clouds go by … you get the idea.
This is regrettable.
Justine Ashton Friends of Glen Ellen founder
To the Editor,
I wanted to share a few details concerning the project at Railroad Street and Carquinez Avenue that weren’t in your previous article.
The two ADUs (accessory dwelling units) were not a part of the original Sorkin project; they were an addition. The previous Railroad parking lot was a gravel, open-to-the-sky parking area, but it is now a covered parking area with two 1,200 square-foot “granny units” in a second-story structure above.
The garages will provide parking, but only for the current tenants in the first project. When ADUs are built within a half-mile walking distance to a transit stop, the developer is exempt in having to provide parking.
Currently, one of the rented units has four cars, and this is not the big unit over the restaurant. The math does not promise adequate parking. Carquinez and the surrounding area are, and will be, greatly impacted by the dense housing and the way Sonoma County rules are being applied.
As for the panoramic view of Glen Ellen and Sonoma Mountain that the ADUs will have and enjoy, that once belonged to the Molofsky building, which is immediately to the east of what is now a towering structure. The entire work area and bank of windows of the Molofsky property are on the west side of the building, facing Sonoma Mountain. That view is gone. They are also wondering how their solar panels will work after the second story and roof are built — there will be less light.
And then there will be additional outdoor lighting, which interferes with the night sky, adding to our town’s light pollution.
The Sorkins tout their contribution to housing, and yes, they are creating places to live, surrounded in hardscape, creating a dense, highly lit, urbanization of Glen Ellen, very different from everything around it.
Deb Pool Glen Ellen To the Editor:
What is so depressing about the recent Sonoma County Board of Supervisors hearing on the marijuana dispensary is how pre-ordained the outcome was and how much of a sham the process of soliciting community input is — a clear example of democracy theater, in which citizens are allowed a few minutes to express their opinions in the false belief that their input has value and impact on the decision.
Supervisor Gore, whose sisterin- law is an active lobbyist for the cannabis industry, dismissed the overwhelming 5-to-1 community response against the dispensary location as a meaningless popularity contest—yet does anyone doubt that if the results had been reversed, he would have claimed the result as a community mandate?
Similarly, the setback regulations were created for a reason, yet in every case thus far the regulations have been set aside, for different reasons no less. Supervisor Gore presents this as a virtue, stating that it is “site specific,” when what it really illustrates is that there are no standards, and that any desired result can be justified by working back from the exemption to find some arbitrary and “unique” circumstance in support.
Adding to this Kafka-esque experience, a traffic report that did not even consider the impact of Sonoma Developmental Center development was considered to be sufficient and not in need of revision.
Supervisor Gore’s motivations seem clear; Supervisor Gorin, however, in whose district this dispensary will reside, has failed her constituents and has chosen to ignore the platform on which she was elected. The evergrowing cynicism about democracy and disaffection with politics in general derives from cases like this.
Victor I. Reus, M.D. Glen Ellen