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OCTOBER 1, 2022 - State delays transparency in SDC proposal process

State delays transparency in SDC proposal process

 

OCTOBER 1, 2022

By Christian Kallen

While several Sonoma Valley community groups hold out hope that the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) disposition process can be influenced by public sentiment, the state’s Department of General Services (DGS) closed the application period for proposals on Sept. 9.

The DGS received at least three proposals by that deadline, including one from Keith Rogal, the developer of Napa Pipe; one from Related California, whose spokesperson, Meea Kang, has made several presentations to local stakeholders; and a proposal from the Glen Ellen Historical Society.

The first two designed their proposals to fit the outlines of the preferred SDC Specific Plan from Permit Sonoma, though that plan has yet to be finalized and approved. The preferred plan presented by Permit Sonoma envisions the core campus of about 185 acres to include 1,000 housing units, some of which would be affordable; some for “missing middle;” some small-lot, single family housing; and some multifamily housing.

There’s also a call included in Permit Sonoma’s preferred plan for development of a variety of nonhousing development options, potentially to include a hotel, a museum, community center, support services, and/or similar facilities; reuse and preservation of some of the historic buildings; parks and other gathering places; and a new connector from Arnold Drive to Highway 12.

Also, the state’s RFP includes a condition for “policies to govern the retention and preservation of the open space surrounding the 180-acre core campus, which encompasses the vast majority of the SDC property (approximately 765 acres).”

Grading the proposals

Those are the general conditions the state asked applicants to fulfill, and a point system of grading applies high reward for certain conditions (experience in large developments, for example) and fewer points for others (affordable housing projects). While the state’s Proposal Evaluation Scoring Criteria may not be a perfect way to choose a developer, it’s the only guidance we have for how the DGS will make its selection.

Per the RFP itself, submissions become public information and, as such, should be available to anyone upon request — the press included. “All documents submitted in response to this RFP will become the property of the State of California and are subject to review or release to the public under the California Public Records Act,” reads the Request for Proposal document on the state’s website.

Under those terms Tracy Salcedo and Arthur Dawson of Glen Ellen requested the proposals from the state. Their request was denied, however. “The requested records are exempt from disclosure because the public interest served by not disclosing these records clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure,” the DGS response states, finding that disclosure “could adversely affect DGS’ ability to negotiate a sale of State property on the most favorable terms to the State …” As a result, only one of the three submitted proposals is currently available for public scrutiny, and our evaluation of the two other development plans must be indirect, by looking at projects the developers have already built.

Keith Rogal

Rogal+Walsh+Mol was the Napa-based developer of the Carneros Inn almost 20 years ago and is currently redeveloping Napa Pipe, a riverfront industrial property project. The company’s original website, rogalwalshmol. com, has been supplanted by rogel.net, and the sole remaining active member of the original trio is Keith Rogal. (The others were Richard Walsh and Casper Mol.)

The Carneros Inn opened in 2003, as a mixed-use hotel of approximately 96 hotel cottages, three restaurants, and 41 other residences, providing over 200 permanent jobs on the 27-acre site. Now called Carneros Resort and Spa, it is a luxury resort in the vineyardfriendly landscape of Carneros in southern Napa County.

Napa Pipe is a 154-acre former industrial site along the Napa River between Kennedy Park and the Highway 12 bridge over the river. The city of Napa voted in 2014 to annex the area to the city, but the development of the former industrial site to residential use has not been rapid. Plans for Napa Pipe include 755 marketrate housing units, 190 affordable and 150 senior housing units, and 150 hotel suites on 168 acres.

Rogal claims to be creating “a wholly new type of neighborhood on this site: a compact, walkable, urban neighborhood, with great streets, parks and public amenities, expressly designed for the needs and desires of today’s smaller households of all ages and incomes.” That should check a few boxes on the state’s Proposal Evaluation Scoring Criteria.

A long-promised Costco planned as part of the project is slated to open in 2023, though a reporter for the Napa Register just a year ago described much of the Napa Pipe site as “still mostly dirt, except for the giant dry dock cranes and other remnants from the industrial days.”

What Rogal is proposing for the former SDC site cannot be determined, and the developer deferred to the state for allowing the release of the documents. “I don’t know the point at which they (the DGS) will wish to make information public from their review, but it hasn’t come as yet,” he responded to the Kenwood Press’s request to see his proposal.

“But certainly, please know that we hope to have the opportunity to work on this exceptional property, and if our proposal is ultimately deemed the one most worthy, we will very much look forward to a process of open and extensive engagement with the public and the press as the planning efforts advance.”

Related California

The second housing developer, Related California, also confirmed through a spokesperson, Meea Kang, that they had submitted a proposal to DGS. According to the website at relatedcalifornia.com, Related California “started exclusively as an affordable housing developer in 1989 and today is one of the largest developers and preservationists of affordable and workforce housing in California.”

In August, the firm announced $690 million in construction financing for residential projects in Santa Clara, CA. The company said the investment “signals the beginning of Related’s growth in Santa Clara and underscores the company’s commitment to deliver the most ambitious and complex development in the country.” This would check the DGS’s affordable housing box.

And in July, Related California “celebrated the grand opening of The Grand LA’s marquee hospitality and residential towers, Conrad Los Angeles and The Grand by Gehry, marking a historic moment for the Grand Avenue redevelopment project and the city of Los Angeles.” This would check another box, on the scale of projects executed.

Related California also announced the Fifteen Fifty, “a bold new residential building in San Francisco,” in 2020 and “three luxury apartment models at Mason on Mariposa,” which they call “Potrero Hill’s most desirable new address.” Another box checked, as the company has clearly executed multiple projects, though the track record does not appear to address the “missing middle” tier of housing.

The Kenwood Press reached out for comment from Kang, but was unable to connect prior to deadline.

Glen Ellen Historical Society

The third proposal may be a long shot, but it is closest to what many Sonoma Valley residents would prefer and is in line with what the North Sonoma Valley Municipal Advisory Committee has articulated. It’s the only one of the three submitted proposals currently available for public review, published online at the eldridgeforall.org website. It’s titled “The Next Hundred Years,” is “presented by the community of Glen Ellen and the Sonoma Valley,” and has been “transmitted on the community’s behalf by the Glen Ellen Historical Society,” according to the website.

Although the RFP’s conditions lean toward robust housing development of the core campus, Sonoma County’s draft environmental impact report examined other alternatives for what the SDC can become. It presents as one of several alternatives a so-called Historic Preservation alternative, with only 450 homes and 600 jobs, a scale that is implicitly environmentally less impactful than a housing development more than twice that size.

It is within this alternative that “The Next Hundred Years” is proposed. Its cover letter proposes “the development of 470 units of affordable housing and preservation of both critical open space and historic assets,” to be facilitated by the formation of an independent special district (ISD), which proponents call the Sonoma Mountain Community Services District. The ISD would be a local public agency that would ensure public ownership of the land in perpetuity, while still providing affordable housing for the workforce and disadvantaged individuals.

Although the creation of a special services district to oversee the development of the property may seem like a stretch, the proposal explains the concept with a reading of state legislation and precedents that the authors hope will sway the DGS.

Bean Anderson, the chair of the Glen Ellen Historical Society’s SDC Committee and a signatory to the proposal, said, “We had hoped that the county’s plan would require community participation and some level of control in the decision-making process after the sale to a developer. In addition, the enabling legislation had required that development would be on a scale with the surrounding rural community. But the county’s specific plan had none of those features and had ignored the advice and proposals that had been developed by the local community over the past seven years. We were left with no choice but to deliver a community-driven proposal to the state.”

As far as the state RFP’s list of required experience, expertise, and financial solidity, the historical society proposal essentially punts, saying they will apply the same criteria to any developer they engage for the housing portion of the site’s future. The proposal also points out the advantages of a smaller development, including reduced costs to the environment of deconstruction/ construction and lower costs to upgrade or replace the site’s deteriorated utility systems.

Eldridge for All has committed to publishing all of the proposals as they become publicly available at eldridgeforall.org.

Climate Research Center

Complicating the process of evaluating the proposals, the board of the California Coastal Commission approved a $250,000 grant to study a climate research and rehabilitation center to be part of the SDC redevelopment project. Although the final SDC Specific Plan is to be released Oct. 17, and to go to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors for approval by the end of the year, it’s unclear as of press time how, among the three proposals received by the state by its Sept. 9 deadline, such a climate research center may be included.

Next Steps

The state schedule to evaluate the proposals received in response to the RFP begins with a proposal review, to have been concluded on Sept. 23; respondent interviews beginning Oct. 10; and the announcement of a selected buyer for the property on Oct. 24.

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