The Kenwood Press
Guest Editor: 09/01/2018

Sonoma Development Center update

By Susan Gorin, Sonoma County First District Supervisor

As the Sonoma Development Center (SDC) closure date approaches, I have reflected on when I first heard that there were plans to close SDC. I can remember feeling overwhelmed by the possible impacts this would have on the SDC community. Fast forward a few years to today, and though there is still much to do, I feel a strong sense of gratitude for all that has been accomplished by SDC’s many supporters. Countless hours of advocacy, planning, and preparation for the transition and placement of SDC patients have helped create homes in the community and have assured that Santa Rosa Health Center is now able to offer enhanced services that better meet the needs of our Regional Center clients and families. Hours of research and education went into informing decision-makers about the unique importance of the site’s diverse natural habitat, water resources, and critical wildlife corridor, and the site assessment of SDC by consultants WRT reflects our concerns and priorities. Sonoma Valley remains committed to having a voice in the future of the SDC.

Where do things stand as of today? Well, the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) has stated that they are on track to have all remaining SDC patients transitioned out of the facility by the end of the year. At that point, the site will go into a “warm shutdown” phase where DDS will transition the workspace, which would include moving equipment and patient files. The state has funded warm closure at SDC through July of 2019. The site would then be transferred to the Department of General Services (DGS) for disposition.

The state and county have continually agreed that the disposition of the property should be informed by a robust community process, and the community has responded with countless demonstrations of support; over 250 residents attended the Glen Ellen Forum and a recent Town Hall. With a change in its administration looming after the November elections, it will be important to consistently communicate local input to the state about the ultimate disposition of the property. The county continues to lead efforts to ensure that community interests are voiced and that local land use and planning guidelines are maintained.

In the past few months, the county has continued to work with the state to determine options for the disposition of the SDC property, including a potential governance structure, such as a Joint Powers Authority or JPA, a collaboration of several agencies. Discussions surrounding this transition may include governance, ownership criteria, security, operation of utilities, fire protection and interim uses. These discussions will continue after the conclusion of this summer’s legislative session.

In an effort to move the process along quickly, the county has requested that the state provide funds to lead a local land use planning and public engagement process. It would also be in the best interest of our community to move forward with plans for interim uses. Occupation of the site will help to mitigate risks to public safety, wildfire danger, the threat of vandalism and other damage, to what will suddenly be a mostly vacant property. So far, the state has rejected any notion of rapid transfer of SDC’s open space land to parks, and there is no funding in the budget for land use planning or management of interim uses. So we will continue to work with the DGS and our legislators on these issues over the next few months in a focused way.

I acknowledge and appreciate all of the work that has been done in the last few years. I am honored to work with such a passionate group of community advocates, and I remain committed to ensuring that our state partners consider our local input into the outcome of this special place. Please send a letter to our governor, and to state elected leaders and the Department of Finance, expressing your support for adequate funding for a land use planning process by the county, interim uses on the site, and options for governance, along with funding to keep the state’s long investment in the facility intact through this transition. The time is now for all of us to come together with the state to determine the fate of this historic, incredible part of our valley.