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SDC decision now scheduled for November

SDC decision now scheduled for November
The developed area of the SDC. The county’s calendar sees an end-of-November passage for the SDC Specific Plan.Photo by Paul Goguen

By Christian Kallen

With the May 17 release of a Request for Proposals (RFP) for development of the Sonoma Developmental Center’s (SDC’s) core campus by the state’s Department of General Services (DGS), comparisons between Permit Sonoma Specific Plan schedule and the state’s RFP schedule quickly showed a problem: The state planned to approve a buyer before the county finalized its Specific Plan for the property, and the selected applicant needed to conform to that nonexistent final plan.

The state’s original timeline had an RFP submittal deadline of July 15; the selection of a buyer a month later, on Aug. 15; and the execution of an “exclusive negotiation agreement” 30 days after that, on Sept. 15. Permit Sonoma’s schedule, meanwhile, targeted Sept. 30 as the final approval date for the specific plan.

By mid-June, however, the DGS and Permit Sonoma modified their schedules to allow more breathing room while still meeting an endof- year deadline, staying within the three-year period allotted to Sonoma County to come up with a plan suitable to the state. The DGS issued an amended schedule on June 17, with an announced buyer on Oct. 24 and an agreement executed on Nov. 28.

The county’s calendar sees an end-of-November passage for the SDC Specific Plan. The release of a draft environmental impact report (DEIR) for the specific plan is now expected Aug. 8, kicking off the 45-day public review and comment period and leading to a final draft on Oct. 21. The final draft would then be reviewed by the Planning Commission on Nov. 3 and, if approved, head to the Board of Supervisors for a vote later that month, with a second “consenting” vote a month later, just before the end-of-year deadline.

Brian Oh of Permit Sonoma told the Kenwood Press that the new schedule included “six weeks of additional time compared to what we communicated to the Board in January 2022. We are getting close to completing the draft EIR and our consultants are needing the additional time.” That January schedule envisioned a completed SDC Specific Plan by September of this year, following environmental impact review and public input.

The “About” page on the website still shows an older schedule that places approval of the specific plan by winter 2021 — roughly a year earlier than Permit Sonoma’s current goal.

Interestingly, this common belief about the span of the three-year period for the state-funded county planning process may be inaccurate. Jennifer Iide, public information officer with the DGS, said in response to an email, “There seems to be a misunderstanding. The authorizing statute does not set a transfer deadline of December 2022. The reference to 3 years in the statute would be from the enactment of the budget and is thus a fiscal year, not a calendar year, calculation. Technically, the 3 years [was] up at the end of June 2022.”

Bradley Dunn, Permit Sonoma’s policy manager, reiterated his usual response to questions about the changing schedules: “The County is completing a thorough environmental review and is on schedule to adopt a specific plan for the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) that meets the timeline prescribed in the County’s agreement with the State.”

Outreach to McGuire

Shifting dates and other signs have led to confusion and concern that the planning process for the SDC is not moving ahead smoothly, which was one motivation for the June 6 PISSED! (Protest in Support of Stopping the Eldridge Disaster) rally at the SDC that produced a sort of grassroots revival on two fronts.

One was the call for a closer communication between the state senators and members of the Glen Ellen/Eldridge communities. “It’s becoming more and more clear to me that working within the established process is not creating the kind of outcome locals want to see at the SDC,” Arthur Dawson told the Kenwood Press. “So, in thinking about who might have the power to change that process, it seemed that we need to be in direct conversation with our legislators in Sacramento.”

A letter drafted by the North Sonoma Valley Municipal Advisory Council (NSVMAC) requested a joint town hall meeting with Sen. Mike McGuire (District 2) and Sen. Bill Dodd (District 3), whose districts adjoin along Arnold Drive in the SDC campus. The town hall meeting didn’t happen, and according to Sen. Bill Dodd, it won’t. “It is essential that Sonoma County and community members drive the planning process, and as a state lawmaker, I’m not going to undermine that by inserting myself,” he stated through a press contact.

Sen. McGuire seemed more receptive, though in a conversation with the Kenwood Press, McGuire did not directly discuss a town hall meeting except in general terms. “I have met with neighbors one on one, all throughout this process. I’m looking forward to getting together with several organizations in the coming weeks to check in on the Sonoma Developmental Center project.”

Several times, he repeated that the state’s schedule was dependent on the county’s efforts, and that until Permit Sonoma had an approved specific plan, the state could not move forward. “But the state won’t even engage on the final decision until the specific plan has been completed … I just want to make sure that we are clear on that.”

A smaller meeting with Sen. McGuire was proposed by Supervisor Susan Gorin, and Glen Ellen locals Kate Eagles, who serves on the NSVMAC’s SDC ad hoc committee; Tracy Salcedo, co-chair of the Glen Ellen Fo-rum’s SDC committee; Nick Brown, the Chair of the Glen Ellen Forum Steering Committee; and Dawson met with the senator and a representative from Sen. Dodd’s office on July 8. Those who participated in the meeting expect to be able to provide feedback to the community within the next couple of weeks.

Open space issues

The second main fallout from the PISSED! rally is a new focus on the immediate disposition of the large areas of open space surrounding the core campus, separate from the lengthy and confusing RFP process. This area has long been recognized as a key legacy of the SDC property, serving as recreational land, habitat, and a wildlife corridor linking Sonoma Mountain with the Mayacamas.

“ A huge first step would be to fast-track transfer of the SDC’s open space to state and county parks and to delineate which agencies are responsible for the transfer,” said Alice Horowitz, curator of the website. She was one of many who pointed out that the state’s RFP for the sale and development of the developed 180 acres leaves altogether unexamined the fate of the surrounding 745 acres of open space.

The DGS pushed back, essentially saying the RFP was never intended to include the open space anyway, which was part of another process. “Unfortunately this is part of the state’s budget process and we are unable to speak to this at this time,” spokesperson Iide said.

For his part, McGuire argued forcefully that the 745 acres of open space will remain open space, according to legislation enabling the current disposition and planning process. “That permanent protection is currently in state law that was vetted in the original enabling legislation, so that’s not at risk,” he told the Kenwood Press.