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Advisory council weighs in on SDC plans

Letter to county officials finalized

By Chris Rooney

“We did it,” exclaimed Kate Eagles, a member of the North Sonoma Valley Municipal Advisory Council (NSVMAC), as the group put the finishing touches on a letter addressing county officials on the future plans for the Sonoma Developmental Center.

“It’s an excellent document,” said NSVMAC Chair Arthur Dawson.

At its March 16 meeting, the council meticulously proofread and edited a letter providing community feedback into the fate of the former Sonoma Developmental Center, an abandoned facility that has been at the heart of debate for years. This prime piece of real estate has drawn interest from developers to environmentalists, and everyone in between.

The letter, addressed to Permit Sonoma’s planning manager, Brian Oh, responds “to the Notice of Preparation (NOP) of a Draft EIR [environmental impact report] for the Sonoma Developmental Center Specific Plan, as issued by Sonoma County on 2/9/22.”

The letter was broken down into sections

When considering wildlife, the letter states, “Large-scale residential and business development has the potential for significant impacts on the wildlife corridor running through the SDC campus. The effects of human and vehicular traffic, lights and noise can disorient wildlife and result in significant harm to their normal behavioral patterns. The EIR must provide expert biological opinion evaluating the range of impacts on the wildlife corridor corresponding to the range of projected development. The designation of the wildlife corridor should be distinguished from recreational open space and safeguards established to prevent outdoor recreation from impacting wildlife movement.”

With regard to housing density, the letter states, “At 1,000 units, the proposed maximum range of housing density in the NOP is inconsistent with the adjacent communities and is not accompanied by a land use planning methodology. The NSVMAC requests that the EIR assessment of environmental impacts include thorough and transparent evaluations of noise and light pollution, and water/creek and wildlife migration protections. Both the low (450 units) and high density (1,000 units) housing specified in the NOP must be evaluated equally, as part of the proposed project.”

The letter also addresses fire safety, the use of existing buildings, new construction, historic preservation, utilities, job creation, and other topics.

“While this letter is reflective of community input, it is not intended to be exhaustive or to take the place of individual comments from community members and other interested parties,” the document states. “The NSVMAC notes that the NOP does not provide a proposed site plan that estimates the size of non-residential development density, nor does it provide the location of utilities, a wildlife corridor, proposed roadways, drainage solutions, or any related topographic mapping. Potential comment regarding specific impacts is limited because a more detailed site plan was not provided.”

Other NSVMAC business

In her report, county Supervisor Susan Gorin told the council that a drought meeting had taken place and there was still concern about the region’s vulnerability to fires. She also noted that cannabis prices had “plummeted” and even a county-approved tax reduction left the industry vulnerable. She said a pot farm on Grange Road in Bennett Valley had shuttered. She concluded by saying the Sonoma County Sheriff ’s Office was trying to overcome the expenses of maintaining Henry 1, a helicopter used countywide for rescues and other missions, and that sharing expenses with other agencies may be required in the future.

Caitlin Cornwall of the Sonoma Valley Collaborative (SVC) led a brief discussion about the collaborative, along with some fellow SVC members. When asked why her group had not endorsed the NSVMAC letter and had weighed in on some other issues regarding the SDC, she explained that the SVC is comprised of a wide range of participants and that they only get involved in matters that have garnered a consensus. For instance, when the issue of vacation rentals arose, she said the SVC has “no position” because there wasn’t a consensus among SVC members.

Cornwall acknowledged that the SDC is “a huge deal for Sonoma Valley,” and that the SVC has submitted two letters to officials, with a third one being composed. She said the group was more interested in generating housing than jobs on the SDC campus.

When questioned about the SVC’s relationship with county officials and potential meetings between the two, she said, “We haven’t had secret access to Permit Sonoma.”