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News: 07/15/2020

New project manager steps into SDC Specific Plan process

M-Group picked to take over after last manager moved on

Emmanuel Ursu of M-Group

The job of creating an acceptable plan to develop and dispose of the Sonoma Developmental Center's 945 acres of state-owned open and developed spaces is now in the hands of M-Group, an East Bay consulting firm hired in May to replace the unexpected early departure of the former deputy director of Permit Sonoma who held the position. Emmanual Ursu is the planner that M-Group has assigned to work with the county.

Milan Nevadja resigned the position after a year to join his wife at her new job on the East Coast, leaving a big gap in the time-sensitive work of formulating a Specific Plan for what to do with the 945 acres of the surplused Sonoma Developmental Center. 

That solution is due at the end of 2021. 

Sonoma County has agreed with the State's Department of  General Services - the effective landlord - to come up with a workable plan to move most of the property into various open space uses (state and local parks), as well as a plan for the remaining, problematical 200 acres of buildings in a wide spectrum of disrepair, along with a defunct steam plant and water treatment system, fire and police services, and long term upkeep issues.

Ursu is a soft-spoken, well-trained land use consultant with long-time ties to Sonoma County, where he has worked for cities and the county over the past five years. He joined M-Group after serving as Orinda's planning director for 15 years. M-Group is based in Campbell with offices in Santa Rosa, Hayward and Napa. Though he lives in Orinda, Ursu has worked with the Santa Rosa group since he joined the company, reporting to M-Group principal Heather Hines.

"It's a great project, with a lot of elements similar to projects I worked on in Orinda, with a large open space component, and similar in size," Ursu said. That specific plan project, called "Wild Earth," involved 1,600 acres of open space and 245 acres of developed land. And much like SDC, "There were similar environmental issues, strong interest in maintaining local feel and quality, and keeping development compatible with local surrounding communities."

He has worked with the Town of Windsor, as project manager on their 2018 General Plan, and assisted with Windsor's Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) renewal as well as a 360-unit apartment project next to downtown. 

Ursu worked for Rohnert Park, seeing their UGB approved by large margin. He is currently managing the City of Petaluma's dredging project, working with Petaluma public works and utilities development reviews, and processing applications for mixed use projects.

Ursu has also helped process a variety of development applications for Santa Rosa and Cotati.

Commuting from Orinda isn't as hard as it may seem, Ursu said. He is married with six kids - four boys and two girls - and works from home most of the time. "I go to the client city on an as-needed basis, once or twice a week," he said. "It is a reverse commute, too."

M-Group entered into an initial $49,000 contract with the county to provide management consultanting services in late May, according to Ursu. While he works for M-Group, he reports directly to Permit Sonoma Deputy Director Scott Orr.

Permit Sonoma is the county department tasked with creating a Specific Plan for the SDC. Ursu will work with Orr and with the primary consultants contracted to create it, Dyett & Bhatia, as well as various citizen groups and stakeholders who, by law, must have a role in the final plan.

Ursu is well aware that "the tight timeline has been made more challenging by the COVID situation." The pandemic has sidelined or made virtual many of the required public outreach programs that were scheduled for this spring and summer.

"We will navigate all these hurdles," he added. "I have confidence we'll end up with a good product. There will be bumps in the road. It's like making sausage; kind of messy but you end up with a good product."

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