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Democrats weigh in on the SDC’s future

Resolution calls for protection and preservation

By Chris Rooney

As Sonoma County officials determine the fate of the former Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC), the Sonoma County Democratic Party (SCDC) issued a resolution that calls for minimal environmental impacts and strong wildlife protections at the sprawling grounds that used to serve people with developmental disabilities.

“The resolution reflects the opinions of many in Sonoma Valley — appropriate scale, protection of historic buildings, fire resiliency, [and] protection of the wildlife corridor and natural resources,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin.

The SCDC resolution was coauthored by Sonoma City Council member Sandra Lowe and Beth Hadley, a member of the SCDC and president of the Sonoma Valley Democrats. Hadley, with a background in special education, asked the SCDC to weigh in.

“I thought it was appropriate for the Democratic Party to make a statement,” she said, adding that the resolution was “consistent with other groups” looking to protect the SDC lands.

The resolution claims that “a plan for its future must preserve the wildlife corridor, and preserve, restore, and repurpose the historic buildings; and … must include economic development which embraces the ecological fragility of the area, the risk of wildfire and the traffic impacts, and must continue to be for the betterment of the people of California and the County of Sonoma and not a touristic destination; and … should continue to provide livability in Sonoma County; and … a housing plan for the site should be at a scale which allows for open space, minimal transportation impacts, affordability, and preservation of ecological and natural resources.”

While Supervisor Gorin essentially approved of the resolution’s concept, she had some questions about the specifics.

“Interestingly, the resolution mentions housing, but the number of housing units on the site, and the percentage of affordability is missing from advocacy in the resolution. The density of housing, especially affordable housing, is an important consideration. Affordable housing is the most critical need for Sonoma Valley, as well as delivery of human and health services (and mental health services) in the valley,” Gorin wrote in an email to the Kenwood Press.

“Missing from the resolution but important to add [is the] state-of-the-art transportation systems, water conservation, and renewal energy production and storage (microgrid) on the campus. Housing, employment, services, education, health care all are important components of any plan going forward within the scale appropriate for the context of the valley. Protection of natural resources, fire resiliency, and concerns about climate frame the conversation and provide an umbrella for any development or redevelopment,” she added.

Hadley was among those chagrined by the SDC’s closure. At one time, the center attended to about 3,000 patients reliant on its support. By the time the federal government withdrew financing, the center took care of just 300 patients, until the state finally pulled the plug.

Hadley and others have lamented that the state was supposed to attend to the property until the county developed a plan, but the property currently has a long list of required upgrades, repairs, and removal of toxins, such as asbestos. They wonder why the grounds and buildings have been allowed to fall into disrepair, noting the related expenses shape the SDC’s future, as they demand a turn of profits — which results in housing that isn’t necessarily affordable and business ventures that might not fit into the local environment.

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