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Focus on the SDC: Survey Says …

Quantifying community input on the conundrum of the future of the Sonoma Developmental Center

By Tracy Salcedo

When the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors considers a preferred alternative for redevelopment of the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) on Tuesday, Jan. 25, the results of two surveys will be among the inputs. Both surveys attempt to quantify community sentiment on three alternatives for the site that were prepared by Permit Sonoma and released for public review and comment in early November 2021. Dubbed A, B, and C, the alternatives call for creation of between 990 and 1,290 housing units on the 180-acre central campus, plus a hotel/resort and other commercial development that would result in job creation.

Two Surveys, Two Sources

The first survey was conducted online by Dyett & Bhatia, consultants working with Permit Sonoma to develop the SDC Specific Plan. The survey was conducted between Nov. 10 and Nov. 23, 2021, and 720 people participated.

The second survey, created by Glen Ellen’s Shannon Lee, a professor of biology at Sonoma State University and Kenwood Press contributor, was open for three days in early December and garnered 672 participants.

Both the county and Lee acknowledge their surveys are not scientific. Both were conducted using Survey Monkey. Another caveat: Not long after the county survey was launched, respondents noted they couldn’t select “other” or “none of the above” when asked to state a preference for a proposed alternative. This option was added by the county after the need was identified, but it’s unclear how many responses were changed.

What follows is a summary of the survey reports, but each is worthy of a closer look. The county’s Alternatives Survey Report is at https://www.sdcspecificplan.com/documents. Lee’s survey is at https://eldridge-forall. org/talking-points; scroll down to download the pdf.

The County Survey

Those taking the county survey “were asked to rank alternatives on several themes including housing type and density, type and number of jobs provided, and amount of open space,” according to the report published in December 2021. In addition, respondents were able to provide long-form commentary on the proposed alternatives. The survey is intended to “serve as an important reference for County staff and decision-makers in formulating a Preferred Plan.”

“Open space, followed by affordable housing and historic preservation, were the top priorities for survey takers, with jobs and market-rate housing being lesser priorities,” the survey states. As for “overall alternative preference,” the report states “about half [52%] of the respondents chose ‘other’, either by itself or in combination with another alternative.” Alternatives A, B, and C were preferred by 22%, 19%, and 20% of respondents respectively.

Noting demographics for respondents “skewed heavily” toward people who are older and white, in addition to providing “overall responses” the report provides “normalized” responses that reflect “differences between different demographic groups where there are significant differences.”

For example, with regard to housing preferences, the report states: “Across all respondents, preference was in the following order — Alternative A (43 percent), Alternative B (36 percent), and Alternative C (21 percent).” However, older white respondents preferred Alternative A, with fewer dwelling units (990), while non-white and younger respondents preferred Alternative B, with the highest number of dwelling units (1,290). The report acknowledges only 63% of survey participants answered this question, and the “other” category is not included in the breakdown.

With regard to job creation, “[a] cross all respondents, there was a preference for Alternative A, which provides a modest number of jobs that skew towards educational/institutional over research and development,” the report states. Alternative A would generate “610 jobs, including educational/institutional jobs and some commercial, hotel and support jobs.”

The Lee Survey

Lee’s survey encompassed 27 questions developed with input from community members, including (full disclosure) this author. In terms of demographics, the majority of respondents identified as living either in Sonoma Valley (52%) or Glen Ellen (31%); 46% were employed and 49% were retired.

Preservation of the property’s open spaces, including creek cor- ridors and the wildlife corridor, received overwhelming support (over 90%) from survey participants.

In contrast, provision of market- rate housing was deemed not important by about 65% of respondents. Commercial development also scored relatively low (~55% not important).

Housing density that essentially halves what’s proposed in the county’s alternatives received overwhelming support from 644 respondents. “65% support less than 400 housing units, 24% support 400 to 450 housing units and a combined 12% support over 450 housing units,” Lee found. Further, “more than [three-quarters] of all respondents would like to see higher than 25% of the units as affordable.”

When it comes to types of housing, 64% of respondents said yes to accessible housing, while co-housing and duplexes got a thumbs-up in the 40% range. The two categories with the lowest yes/highest no ratios were estate homes (7% yes; 81% no) and three-story apartment buildings (13% yes; 69% no).

Asked whether the county’s proposed alternatives adequately address the concerns of local residents with regard to fire hazards, traffic, and other impacts, 71% of respondents said no. “Glen Ellen respondents showed a greater concern than Sonoma Valley respondents, which is not surprising because, in general, those respondents are more likely to have been directly impacted by the 2017 Nuns Fire,” Lee noted.

Lee also attempted to quantify other priorities voiced by stakeholders. “An overwhelming 87%” consider it “very important to preserve the rural character of Glen Ellen and the area nearby,” Lee found. On the topic of remediation of the site’s infrastructure, “89% say the State should be responsible for cleaning up toxics, replacing aging infrastructure, and performing basic remedial maintenance on historic resources on the property.” With regard to economic feasibility, “84% think the County should consider other funding options to increase public benefits and decrease dependency on market rate housing and commercial development.” And finally, “81% support extension of the deadline for the county to decide on a redevelopment plan.”

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