The Kenwood Press
News: 07/01/2019

Workshop refines vision for SDC future

Jay Gamel

About 150 people met at Hanna Boys Center on June 15 to refine a vision statement for the future of the state owned and now-shuttered Sonoma Developmental Center’s (SDC) 945 acres in Eldridge. The vision statement will guide the county as it forges a very specific plan for how the land will be developed and what that development should look like.

“If your voices hadn’t been so loud, we wouldn’t be here today,” Sonoma Ecology Center Executive Director Richard Dale said to loud applause. “We’d be lamenting the loss of Eldridge.”

“This is an opportunity for the community to come together to agree on an overarching concept for footprints of land for sites,” First District Supervisor Susan Gorin said. “We will not have time for discussion of specific uses. We are setting the stage for the formal land use planning process that will commence in the fall.”

Using $3.5 million in state funds that should be approved by press time, the county is well along in the process of selecting a consulting company to come up with a focused plan for zoning and development of the property over the next two years.

Bids are due by July 12 and the county expects to award the contract by Sept. 6.

Several representatives from prospective bidders on the consulting contract were present at the workshop, including three from WRT, which produced the initial infrastructure analysis on the property two years ago.

Approximately 745 acres have been virtually promised by the state to be dedicated to open space or park uses. What happens to the remaining 200 acres, containing hundreds of buildings in various states of disrepair is what concerns most people. The WRT study estimated it could cost well over $100 million to remedy existing deficiencies in the buildings and physical plant.

WRT found that the main concerns about the Eldridge property are: Protection of the SDC land and water; preservation of a legacy of care; community character and historical preservation; contribution to economic diversity and viability of Sonoma Valley; and focus on community benefits.

These were worked out after many meetings with identified stakeholders – Sonoma County, landowners, the Sonoma Ecology Center, the Sonoma Land Trust, the SDC Parent Hospital Association, Sonoma Mountain Preservation, and others – and confidential interviews with over 80 people.

The seven points of the Vision Statement presented at the recent workshop were:

• Protect the open space and wildlife corridors for environmental sustainability and public access.

• Keep sustainability in mind for all future planning, using recognized principles of land use planning.

• Strong stakeholder participation in the final Specific Plan to ensure local participation and local needs are addressed.

• Develop housing options to help with the county’s severe housing crisis, based on Sonoma Valley needs.

• Educational, job training and institutional partners should be considered.

• Preserve of historic and cultural sites.

• Create a governance entity to embrace these community visions.

Six to eight people and a group leader read and discussed the prepared vision statement. They were asked to place a green sticker on elements they liked and yellow stickers with their comments or reservations on the others.

The majority of those present favored developing community resources, such as a community center, one or more museums, offices for local nonprofit organizations, and the like, but Permit Sonoma Deputy Director Milan Nevajda cautioned the audience to prepare for some commercial development.

“We need the community to understand, to accept reality, and be practical,” he said. “We must balance costs versus vision.”

Nevajda will shepherd the specific plan process over the next two years. He replaced the recently retired Jennifer Barrett two months ago.

The county has contracted with the state of California to develop an acceptable Specific Plan for developing the Eldridge property. That contract says the state expects to recoup some or all of the $43 million cost of maintaining the property over the next three years. Sonoma County has to file quarterly reports to the Department of General Services over the life of the agreement.

Results of the workshop poll were not available at press time.

The Vision Statement is available at the TransformSDC website, www.transformsdc.com.

Money for open space

The nonprofit Sonoma Land Trust, a key stakeholder, was awarded a $700,000 grant from Community Foundation Sonoma County and its regional affiliate, Sonoma Valley Fund, that will be used to help secure 700 acres of the SDC’s open lands for public use and wildlife conservation. The award was announced on June 24 by Elizabeth Brown, the foundation’s president and CEO.

The money was provided by a 2009 bequest from Roland and Hazel Todd. Speaking of the Todd’s legacy, Brown said, “The Todd’s Sonoma County roots ran incredibly deep.” Roland Todd’s family had been in Kenwood since 1852, and the Valley was a unique and special place for both Roland and Hazel. “We hope that the community will keep their memories alive and share in our gratitude when they visit this beautiful open space.”

State and county park agencies are already looking into expanding Jack London State Historic Park and Sonoma Valley Regional Park to include SDC land.

Funds from the Community Foundation grant will be used for the purchase of a conservation easement over portions of the SDC property, and to fund the rehabilitation and improvement of the property’s trails.

A 2015 report from the county’s Ag + Open Space District determined that the SDC lands targeted by the grant are “integral to the character of the Sonoma Valley and the ecological health of the North Bay.”