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News: 01/15/2020

Specific Plan for SDC getting underway

Last Dec. 17, county supervisors approved accepting $3.5 million from the state to underwrite a Specific Plan for what to do with 945 acres of the former Sonoma Developmental Center that are expected to eventually come under Sonoma County’s jurisdiction. They also approved a $1,475,949 million contract with Oakland’s Dyett & Bhatia (D&B), urban and regional planners chosen from a field of three applicants for the job. Besides being the low bidder, D&B was singled out for their extensive qualifications and experience with similar projects, including specific plan developments.

Already three months behind the plan’s initially projected completion schedule as the County was working to finalize the agreement with the State, work is expected to get underway by the week of Jan. 20, according to Permit Sonoma, the county agency overseeing the Specific Plan development.

“The initial steps will be to coordinate, refine the scope, set out a preliminary calendar for meetings and deliverables, and then update the existing conditions that the State prepared,” Permit Sonoma’s Deputy Director for Planning Milan Nevajda said. “From there we will move to envisioning the future with viable alternatives.” Nevajda will have the principal job of coordinating the process.

“One of the early tasks that I will be leading is setting up technical teams to augment the Planning Advisory Team,” Nevajda said. “Permit Sonoma will form technical groups to dive deeper into focused topics, such as historic preservation and infrastructure, to make sure our analysis of conditions, opportunities, and constraints are well founded.”

On Dec. 29, the county announced the selection of 15 members of a Planning Advisory Team (PAT) that will offer technical expertise to the county and consultants as well as reach out to the public during the process.

Rajeev Bhatia, AICP, principal of the planning consultancy, is preparing to meet with the PAT at the end of January.

“At this stage all I can really offer is that we are looking forward to the process, and understanding the technical issues and hearing from the community,” Bhatia said. “We have a robust process of outreach and community engagement, and will be inviting the community to work collaboratively with us and the PAT at key stages in the process to shape the future of this pivotal site.”

While the state has pledged to keep 700 undeveloped acres of the SDC lands as open space, as state or county parklands, the remaining acreage contains around 200 buildings and infrastructure in various states of disrepair. With few exceptions, the campus buildings were constructed from the 1890s through the 1970s. A preliminary investigation in 2017 suggested remediation could cost over $100 million, though some buildings could be rehabilitated and repurposed.

The old steam and water filtration plants have both been shuttered in recent months, unable to meet state and federal standards. Alternate methods of preventing mildew in the now unheated buildings have been adopted. Potable water is being supplied by the Sonoma County Water Agency via an aqueduct that runs from Santa Rosa to Sonoma through the Valley of the Moon.

Normally, the state Department of General Services takes possession of surplus property from the prior agency that occupied it and offers it first to other state agencies; if no agency wants it, the property is auctioned off. From the beginning of the SDC closure process, however, an outcry was made by the surrounding communities and county to have a strong voice in the land’s future. With the help of the county’s State legislators, Board of Supervisors, and a strong, united citizen voice, the state has agreed in principal to transfer the bulk of the property to parks and open space, and allow locals to have a strong say in future development. The state has indicated it expects to be repaid for the $43 million it is spending for upkeep of the vacant property.

“This project is the embodiment of many years’ worth of effort by the community, our elected representatives at all levels of government, and County staff,” Nevajda said.

Supervisor Susan Gorin is one of those elected officials happy to see the planning process start in earnest.

“I am pleased that our Planning Advisory Team has been appointed and will meet in the next few weeks to discuss the process and timeline and provide suggestions on the best way to outreach to our community to receive ideas for housing, services, employment and amenities on the Sonoma Developmental Center campus,” she said.

The Specific Plan

The state’s Department of General Services (the technical property owner since developmental services were terminated in 2018), is requiring a Specific Plan from the county before they will relinquish the property.

A Specific Plan is a focused statement intended to define future development to achieve specific goals. It includes identifying workable “mixed uses and economic development, affordable housing opportunities, open space and resource conservation, cultural and historical preservation,” according to a Dec. 17 staff report for the Board of Supervisors. “The development articulated through the Specific Plan must be compatible in scale with the surrounding community, and consistent with State, County, and community goals.”

The timeline originally proposed in 2018 envisioned a Specific Plan adoption and transfer process to conclude by 2022, but a multitude of delays since the fires of 2017 and 2019 put off the consulting confirmation and state payment until late last December. Sonoma County’s revised timeline has been extended by six months, into the early months of 2023.

The new schedule calls for full engagement in the planning process by March and an economic feasibility analysis to be done by May. A study of plan alternatives is expected by October.

Dyett & Bhatia contract is signed

The Oakland-based urban and regional planning company Dyett & Bhatia has four partners, principal among them are Rajeev Bhatia (President) and Michael Dyett (Consulting partner), and principals Andrew Hill and Vivian Kahn.

Bhatia has been working with Permit Sonoma to bring the SDC consulting contract to fruition. He holds a Master of City Planning and a Master of Landscape Architecture from U.C. Berkeley, where he was a University Fellow, and a Bachelor of Architecture from the School of Planning and Architecture in New Delhi, India. He has been Fellow of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Asian Cultural Council (Rockefeller Foundation, New York).

Locally, D&B led community outreach for Windsor and preparation of the town’s Downtown/Station Area Plan and Environmental Impact Report that has guided Windsor’s development since 2014.

Nationally, the company achieved fame in the early 1980s, preparing zoning regulations for downtown Portland that are still largely in effect.

The company will be paid on a time and material/expense basis up to $1,475,949, the amount of their bid. Bills will be presented and paid only after the billed work is completed, under the contract.

The state has provided the county $3.5 million to pay for developing that plan and the costs associated with it. The county must submit quarterly progress reports to the Department of General Services to stay in compliance.

“The reports will not be public on the DGS website,” DGS spokesperson Jennifer Lida responded to an emailed question. “DGS will produce an annual report for the Legislature with some information taken from the Sonoma County report. That report will be public.”


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