Kenwood Press


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Guest Editor: 04/01/2014

Preserving Sonoma Developmental Center

By Will Shonbrun



The Sonoma Land Trust organization, perhaps the county’s most outstanding land preservation group with a long and unmatched history, is eager and dedicated to preserving Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) land and maintaining the vital services that have been provided there for its client population.

The Land Trust has joined with a coalition of other preservation groups, including the Sonoma County Agriculture and Open Space District, Sonoma County Regional Parks Department, Sonoma Ecology Center, Sonoma Mountain Preservation, and the Valley of the Moon Natural History Association. The Land Trust has this to say:

“At almost 1,000 acres, the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) property is the largest and most significant unprotected land in the Sonoma Valley. In addition to providing services for developmentally disabled individuals, this property is situated at the heart of the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor, a crucial passage for wildlife that extends over 5 miles from Sonoma Mountain to the Mayacamas Mountains and is at risk of being developed.”

The Coalition is working to:

  • Retain the Sonoma Developmental Center services on the property, and explore other complementary and appropriate uses within the footprint of the facilities. 
  • Advocate for the permanent protection of the open land on the SDC property and the essential services it provides, such as habitat and movement corridors for wildlife, clean and ample drinking water, a place of beauty for us to enjoy, and carbon sequestration, among many others. 
  • Expand public access and recreation opportunities that are compatible with the protection of the property’s conservation values, including the development of new trails and connections to existing trails on Sonoma Mountain, and potentially across Sonoma Valley to the complex of protected lands within the Mayacamas Mountains.” (sonomalandtrust.org/enews/2013/1312/SDC-Coalition.pdf
As some readers may remember, in 1996 there was an attempt made to lease some of the SDC land, specifically two parcels in the upper orchards to be used for vineyard development. Then-state senator Mike Thompson sponsored SB1418 for that purpose and held meetings for local discussions and input of that proposal. A great deal of local opposition to vineyard development ensued over the following six years and finally resulted in the transfer of the orchard and upper wooded parcel to Jack London State Park.

What the community at large needs to do is join with the preservation organizations and come up with plans for how to make SDC economically self-sustaining without selling some (any) of this precious natural resource to private development interests.

One idea might be for some of that land to be used as satellite campuses for either the SRJC or Sonoma State University. It’s a perfect college campus. Another idea would be to use some of the land for a teaching college or institution for the education and training of those who want to work in the mental health field.

There are any number of ideas for the disposition of some of these lands, which do not include selling one inch of it so that developers can gain more profits. To me that is the most important consideration.

Furthermore, the county could step up and purchase the adjoining land that abuts the regional park and expand it. What the Sonoma Valley community has to do is join forces with the land preservation groups cited here and protect and preserve the Developmental Center, its clients and its caretakers, and find viable ways in which to do so. That is our responsibility and obligation.

If readers have any suggestions for viable use of any portions of SDC land that does not include private commercial development interests, contact County Supervisor Susan Gorin or the Sonoma Land Trust.

Will Shonbrun is a local writer who lives in Boyes Hot Springs.

Readers may submit articles of approximately 800 words on topics of local interest for The Guest Editor column. Email info@kenwoodpress.com. Although we intend to print all submissions, we do reserve the right to refuse to publish any article.



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