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News: 10/01/2020

Support sought for Eldridge development ideas



Imagine part of the former Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) as home for a forward thinking group of enterprises dedicated to coming up with constructive ideas to improve the planet’s future. While this concept is still in early stages of development, Caitlin Cornwall outlined the idea at the September Glen Ellen Forum meeting. The idea anticipates a high demand for solutions for energy, housing, transportation, climate change, and economic instability, and the Eldridge campus could be a great place to work on those issues.

Cornwall is a senior project manager for the Sonoma Ecology Center, and is working with others on this idea and seeking support from local people and groups to persuade those now considering future uses for the sprawling, abandoned, state property to consider it.

The State of California owns the property and buildings. While it has promised to turn over the wildlands and open space elements to parks and recreational uses, the fate of the 200-acres of campus buildings is far from settled. Some of those buildings are over a century old and many need demolition or extensive renovations to be useful.

Sonoma County is forging a specific plan to satisfy the state’s conditions to relinquish the property, which include compensation. The planners need to present at least three alternative scenarios for future development. The plan is supposed to be finished by the end of next year, but fires and the pandemic may delay the finish.

Cornwall hopes the Eldridge Enterprise concept can become at least one of those plans.

Citing expert estimates of $2 trillion to reduce humanity’s carbon footprint to livable levels over the next 30 years, the project takes inspiration from California’s continuing economic growth while addressing climate solutions. The concept envisions an organization or groups of organizations that can “rapidly invent and innovate the applied solutions our planet needs … such as designing physical objects, finances mechanisms, management technologies, and manufacturing and process innovations.”

In a nutshell, the plan is working to develop a core economic engine for a diverse, affordable, and self-contained community constrained by a governance structure to produce benefits for the local community and planet.

“There is room in the 200-acre former campus for many different land uses to co-exist,” Cornwall said. “We don’t need to choose just one or two.”

Housing a variety of well-funded companies and their employees reduces the traffic limitations inherent in the property location, serviced by a single, two-lane road, Arnold Drive.

The natural beauty of the location is a powerful motivation for people to come and work here, and the kinds of jobs developed would run a gamut of incomes and sustainability. Housing would be a part of the overall concept.

“The Eldridge Enterprise is an audacious bid to attract world-class talent and capital, making possible transformative shifts in our local community – from higher-paying jobs to a diverse mix of affordable housing options,” Cornwall wrote in a supporting statement

The Eldridge Enterprise concept would also further the caregiving mission of the SDC – long-term care for a vulnerable population. Only now, it’s the entire planet that needs the help.

“Creating the physical place that engenders invention, action and unprecedented competitive collaboration keeps Sonoma County front and center in building a viable future for all of us,” Cornwall wrote. “Think about Sonoma County’s development of Sonoma Clean Power, the Renewal Enterprise District, and Carbon Free Water … all frontline actions leading to economic, human and environmental vitality for the county.”

As currently understood, the financial engine would take up to 30 acres, with offices, labs and meeting spaces to host a variety of design, technology and engineering projects and their supporting staff and equipment.

The campus would include housing for all levels of employees as well as for visitors, experts and interns and others who come for learning and work stays.

Historic preservation is a part of the plan as well, to “honor the memory of past inhabitants of the site, from Miwok people to early ranchers, to the developmentally disabled.”

The disposition of the SDC property will require a clear governance and financial model, one that embraces the state’s needs and those of local government, businesses and communities, as well as environmental and financial policies that encourage healthy and sustainable practices.

“Many types of people have expressed, for years, that they wanted employment on the site, good jobs that go beyond wine and tourism,” Cornwall said later. “The general wish for good jobs onsite went nowhere until about a year ago, when the experts who could actually make it happen, point person Rusty Klassen at Sonoma Water, started working on it.”

The specific planning group will be making initial study recommendations soon. Cornwall urges people who like the Eldridge Enterprise concept to contact the SEC (richard@sonomaecologycenter.org or caitlin@sonomaecologycenter.org) if you can sign on. Tell Supervisor Susan Gorin that you want the Eldridge Enterprise as one of the three alternatives evaluated by emailing her at: susan.gorin@sonoma.county.org.


Email: jay@kenwoodpress.com

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