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Stakeholders weigh in on SDC specific plan policies

Workshops focus on policies for redevelopment; comments accepted through April 7
Stakeholders weigh in on SDC specific plan policies
The SDC campus facing east.Photo by Paul Goguen

By Tracy Salcedo

Stakeholders were asked to help shape policies for the specific plan that will guide redevelopment of the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) campus during two virtual workshops hosted by Permit Sonoma.

The workshops, held on March 22 and March 26, drew about 100 participants, some of whom attended both sessions. Stakeholders were asked to offer feedback on goals and policies presented on electronic meeting boards in what planners described as an “open house” format. The three breakout rooms offered in the March 22 meeting focused on open space, biological and cultural resources, and hazards; mobility and access; and community design and sustainability. Breakout rooms on March 26 focused on land use and development; public facilities, services, and infrastructure; and implementation and financing.

Attendees in the March 22 breakout rooms placed their comments and suggestions in the chat feature of the Zoom program; these were then added by moderators as sticky notes to the meeting boards. On March 26 the chat feature was not available, so planners facilitating breakout rooms added the sticky notes themselves. The meeting boards will remain active until April 7 and are available on the website.

In addition to compiling public input, planners from Permit Sonoma, including director Tennis Wick, project planning manager Brian Oh, policy manager Bradley Dunn, and representatives from consultants Dyett and Bhatia, fielded questions about the process and how stakeholder input would ultimately be incorporated in the draft specific plan.

Some stakeholders expressed confusion about what kind of input planners were seeking in the two workshops, which overlapped with the deadline for providing written comments on the Notice of Preparation for the environmental impact report (EIR) that will accompany the specific plan for the SDC. Others, like Sonoma’s Nancy Kirwan, who has been following developments around the SDC’s redevelopment closely, were frustrated with the process.

“Prettier pictures, more window dressing, still no grappling with preexisting problems: wildlife corridor, WUI [wildland-urban interface] in a high fire risk zone, traffic, building in the middle of an existing town. No serious attempt to address climate change and ongoing drought,” she noted after the workshops.

Addressing those concerns, planner Oh emphasized that stakeholders will continue to be engaged in the process and noted the next opportunity for public comment will be in June, when the draft specific plan and EIR are released for a 45-day comment period.

A brief summary of comments submitted in the workshops and through the press deadline is provided below for each category, with the caveat that more complete reporting on the content of the meeting boards would take up many more column inches than most readers of a community newspaper could endure.

Land use and development

Several commenters posted sticky notes requesting the proposed hotel be removed from development plans. Others addressed the integration of affordable housing with market-rate housing, with several requesting an increase in the percentage of affordable housing built on the site. Other policy suggestions included restrictions on vacation rentals, requiring “strict water conservation,” prioritizing housing for people living with developmental disabilities, phasing development, and building-height restrictions.

Public facilities, services, and infrastructure

A number of commenters posted concerns about water use and recycling, including calling for “waterwise buildings and landscaping,” ensuring groundwater recharge, incorporating graywater systems, addressing runoff from developed areas into waterways on the property, complying with water laws and addressing water rights, and assuring efficient wastewater disposal. Traffic flow was also a focus, including “transit improvements.” Other policy suggestions incorporating renewable energy.

Implementation and financing

Several stakeholders requested exploration of a trust or public-private partnership, perhaps modeled on the Presidio Trust, to oversee implementation of the redevelopment, incorporate local input, and ensure flexibility in the future. Others requested phased redevelopment, ensuring affordable housing is built before other types of housing, and “changing the assumptions about the amount of public financing that might be available for projects.”

Open space, biological and cultural resources, and hazards

The integrity of the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor and the site’s cherished open spaces garnered a number of suggestions, with commenters calling for restriction of public trails in the corridor, increased creek setbacks and corridor buffers, and restoration of wetlands and riparian zones. A number of comments supported “dark skyfriendly lighting requirements,” imposing restrictions (leash laws) on pets, and avoiding installation of fencing that would impede the “permeability” of the site. Others asked that signage be inclusive of the SDC’s historic legacy and the indigenous people who once lived here, and that all interpretive signs be both in English and Spanish.

Mobility and access

The proposed road connecting Highway 12 and Arnold Drive was a hot topic, with commenters noting the road should either be eliminated from plans or only be used for evacuation in emergencies. Commenters also stated public transit must be improved. Other policy suggestions included adding bike lanes and pedestrian walkways and mitigating traffic congestion along Arnold Drive north in Glen Ellen and south into Sonoma. “Do not turn Arnold Drive into a highway,” wrote one stakeholder.

Community design and sustainability

Maintaining the character of Glen Ellen and along Arnold Drive was a recurring theme among commenters: “The scale of the redevelopment of the SDC must fit into the rural historic village of Glen Ellen,” wrote one. Another hot policy issue: adaptive reuse and repurposing existing buildings as housing, commercial space, a makers’ space, and a climate resiliency lab. Climate resiliency, water resources, and emergency evacuation also were discussed.