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News: 05/01/2014

SDC’s future focus of County, agencies

An impressive number of county and non-profit agencies have joined together to cope with the impacts the eventual closure or downsizing of the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) will have on its 453 remaining residents, 1,394 employees, and 846 acres of undeveloped real estate. On April 15, most of them participated in a workshop held by the county’s Board of Supervisors that provided an overview of the problems closure raises.

Led by First District Supervisor Susan Gorin, the county’s supervisors have made the issues surrounding SDC’s future a priority for 2014, listing as their main goals retaining services, permanently protecting the land, retaining employment opportunities, and expanding recreational opportunities.

“Hopefully the compelling message here is why it is so important for the county departments, agencies, the community partners to come together in a coalition to move forward in creating a vision for the future of the Developmental Center,” Gorin said at the outset of the workshop. “Everyone in [Sonoma Valley] recognizes that this is the most important issue for probably the next decade from a variety of perspectives.”

The SDC has been providing services for the developmentally disabled since it opened in 1891. While some of the original 1,670 acres have been converted to state and regional parkland, there remain a variety of potential uses for the property: open space, recreation and buildings. Permit and Resource Management Department Director J.T. Wick said that if the property reverts to the county, public zoning would allow for churches, affordable housing, schools and the like. He said a specific plan for development could take two or three years.

Misti Arias, representing the County’s Agriculture and Open Space District, said, “Incompatible development could have disastrous impacts on wildlife. It’s a critical linkage to other protected lands in the area.”

The county and private agencies are being asked to work toward keeping the SDC open and expanding services throughout Northern California, or if it is closed, keeping services on site managed by the county and regional providers. If that model is not workable, the county should look for a new model for providing services and have a local plan for reusing the site.

Maintaining the necessary level of support services for the clients and preserving the large, undeveloped property are the main issues, both of which have far reaching implications and pose a variety of complex problems and possible solutions.

On the human side, the parents, relatives and guardians of the remaining clients are most vocal about the closure, fearing that their loved ones cannot or will not receive the same level of care in smaller, community settings.

Kathleen Miller, president of the Parent Hospital Association, has her son at the SDC. She has served on the forefront of patient advocacy regarding the move to close the developmental centers. She is encouraged by the level of commitment to preserving as much of the SDC as possible.

“What we’re trying to do is to say that we want to be involved in the real process of deciding the future of SDC, whether there will be services there,” Miller said. “Closing developmental centers is a way to get the state out of the business of being responsible, and moving responsibility to private providers. They will disburse the money and not be responsible. That’s the general direction. I totally support the county being involved and am happy they elected to do that,” Miller added.

Supervisor Shirlee Zane likened the situation to Gov. Jerry Brown’s prison “realignment” order in 2011 that shifted tens of thousands of state prisoners to county custody, straining local jail administration in spite of state funding. Zane was volubly concerned that the state is effecting another “realignment” by passing off its care of developmentally disabled people to county agencies, similar to what happened when thousands of mentally ill patients were turned out into communities statewide back in the late 1960s.

The SDC clients who remain are the most severely disabled, people who require major levels of care and upkeep that are only available in the larger group settings provided by the existing centers, especially SDC.

Amy Wall, assistant director of Lanterman Developmental Center Closure at California Department of Developmental Services, outlined the state’s options, which are to sell, lease or donate, or to continue the center as it is. Wall directed the closure of Lanterman Development Center from 2012 until recently when she was promoted to state level administration.

Wall noted that the final report of a recent task force on Developmental Center closures expressed concern that the residents continue to receive the specialized care they need, such as residential and day programs, dental, medical, equipment and behavioral services. The state is considering leasing Developmental Center operations to another provider and continuing services either on or off the current site.

A bill sponsored by State Senator Noreen Evans (SB 1428) would require the state to “confer and cooperate” with local authorities and groups, including residents and families of the SDC, before any final determinations are made. The bill was passed out of committee on April 8. Nothing more will happen until it comes before the Senate Appropriation Committee on May 22.

Another workshop will be held in three months, Supervisor Gorin said at the conclusion of the meeting.

A partial list of the people, groups and agencies involved the future of the Sonoma Developmental Center.

Sonoma County Agencies

Board of Supervisors

Agricultural & Open Space District

Regional Parks


Water Agency

Community Development Commission

Permit & Resource Management Department

Health and Human Services

City of Sonoma

Private agencies

Parent Hospital Association

Sonoma Land Trust

Sonoma Mountain

Preservation Group

Sonoma Ecology Center

Valley of the Moon Natural History Association

Audubon Canyon Ranch


Sen. Noreen Evans (2nd District-Santa Rosa)

State Sen. Norma Torres (32nd District-Pomona)

Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada (4th District-Davis)

Assemblyman Freddie Rodriguez (52nd District-Pomona)

State Agencies/Departments

Health and Human Services

State Parks

Fish and Wildlife


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