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Politics on Tap: 02/01/2019

SDC shutdown – Where’s the money?

The first peek at the California State Budget for 2019-2020 was revealed on Jan. 15 and it contained absolutely no money for the shutdown costs for the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC). There are no funds set aside for maintenance, operation, disposition or other potential expense in any part of the proposed state budget, including the Department of General Services (DGS), which will become the primary landlord and responsible for the property on July 1, or the Department of Developmental Services, which has been the proprietor of the institution and its lands for decades and which will relinquish its oversight on June 30.

The 945-acre property, that includes 150 acres of aging buildings and physical campus will require a lot of money over the next fiscal year to care for the many buildings left unattended (known as a “warm shutdown”), security, maintenance, fire protection, and the cost of working on a governing body to determine the finer details of how the property is to be allocated to either state or local parks, sold for development, rehabilitated for community uses, or other, as yet unknown, uses.

This initial budget was mostly prepared by former Governor Jerry Brown’s staff, but has certainly been looked at by new Governor Gavin Newsom’s staff. Several people who are familiar with the ongoing effort to see that the SDC buildings and lands are disposed with community approval say that Newsom is aware of the issue, but say he has bigger fish to fry right now.

“Because the discussions on the future disposition of SDC, including timeframes, roles, and process are still ongoing, there was no budget item for DGS related to SDC in the Governor’s January Budget,” Jennifer Lida said. “Discussions regarding the campus will continue as the budget process moves forward.” Lida is public information officer for the DGS Office of Public Affairs.

The real news will come with the May Budget Revise, usually submitted on or near May 14. This will result from three months of wrestling with legislators and lobbyists to refine, subtract or add funds to the budget. Meanwhile, Sonoma County and the Department of General Services are continuing to negotiate in earnest to set up at least a framework for moving ahead. This framework will suggest the kind of funding that may be needed over the next fiscal year.

First District Supervisor Susan Gorin put it this way:

“The county is continuing to work closely with Senator Mike McGuire and the Department of General Services to negotiate how a master planning structure and community engagement might proceed and how we might be funded for that process, to hold on to the land and keep it in warm closure while we go through the process.”

Under California rules for the disposition of real estate, the DGS must evaluate the property and find the best use for it, offering it to state and public agencies first and potential buyers after that. In the case of SDC, it is being evaluated with a great deal of community input, an unusual step for the DGS.

“We are sensitive to the fact that a new governor has just been sworn in and is grappling with many issues, not least the potential bankruptcy of PG&E,” Gorin added. “We have to be patient while he goes through his appointments and works with McGuire and the other delegates.”

Gorin hopes to bring back details of some kind of arrangement to the county Board of Supervisors by mid-March, but that would need to be signed off on by the state Department of Finance and the DGS. Ultimately, any agreement reached with the state may involve considerable local funds that will require the consent of a majority of the county’s supervisors.

“Everybody is aware that there needs to be some funding potential for land use and warm closure costs for a period of time,” Gorin said. “I have full confidence in Senator McGuire to work on appropriate legislation and funding requests.”


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