A Pledge to the Community: Transform SDC Project Prepares Advocacy Strategy for 2016

December 23, 2015:

The Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) has touched so many lives. A mention of SDC invariably prompts a story of how this incredible facility has been a source of inspiration to our community for generations. 2015 has undoubtedly been a very challenging year for the residents, staff and families of SDC. The state’s announcement in May that they intend to close the Center by the end of 2018 is a life changing decision that will impact hundreds of families and SDC employees. As the Center readies for its 125 year anniversary in 2016, there are many who wonder what the future will bring.

When we publicly launched the Transform SDC Project in early 2015, we did not anticipate the pending closure announcement in May. Based on a January 2014 Report issued by the California Department of Health and Human Services, we knew that the state intended to “transition” away from being the operator of historically large residential living facilities for people with developmental disabilities. When the federal government rejected the state’s appeal of a decision to decertify seven patient units at SDC and strip their Medicaid funding over findings that care for hundreds of disabled patients was deficient, the closure process was put on the fast track. The 2018 closure timeline was formalized in a July settlement agreement between the State of California and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and the state subsequently submitted a draft closure plan to the California Legislature in October. If you need a refresher for what is in the closure plan vis-à-vis community input, please review the comparison chart on our blog site.

The closure plan makes a commitment that the state will “work with the SDC Coalition, Sonoma County and other interested parties to identify potential options for the future use of the SDC campus… and to explore future services that could perhaps be provided at SDC.” This is a promising opening on the part of the state, but there are some critical, unresolved issues that need detailed answers:

  • What existing health care operations will continue past closure?
  • What new health care programs is the state willing to consider and possibly implement concurrent with the closure process?
  • What is the mechanism (both interim and permanent) to protect the open space and natural resource lands of SDC?
  • What is the state’s role in the formation of an SDC Advisory Council and a potential “trust” organization to govern the transformation/reuse process after closure?
  • What strategy will ensure the long-term financial sustainability of a transformed SDC?

As we prepare for 2016, the first order of business is the Legislature’s consideration and approval of the draft closure plan. The plan is not “official” until endorsed by the Legislature, and this will likely happen as part of the approval process for the 2016-2017 state budget. The Legislature reconvenes in early January, and our local coalition will be working closely with our state elected officials to develop a cohesive, unified set of priorities that will guide our advocacy and community organizing. Expect to see a summary of our advocacy strategy in early January.

It’s been a tough year, but the Sonoma Land Trust is committed to continuing the Transform SDC Project in close coordination with our many partners. The Project Steering Committee is made up of Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin, Kathleen Miller of the Parent Hospital Association, Richard Dale of the Sonoma Ecology Center, and John McCaull from Sonoma Land Trust. There are many community groups and individuals too numerous to mention who have volunteered, attended and testified at hearings and educated their friends, families and community about the importance of SDC. We are all stronger together, and please know that the support of each and every one of you is making a difference.

Finally, we would like to give some special thanks during this holiday season. The Transform SDC Project would not exist without the generous financial support of Impact100 Sonoma, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Resources Legacy Fund, the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, the Sonoma County Department of Health Services, Sonoma County Regional Parks Department, the Sonoma County Water Agency, and several donors from the community who have made major gifts to the Sonoma Land Trust on behalf of our Project. The Parent Hospital Association has also made significant contributions from its internal budget to the overall effort. With this funding, we have been able to retain the services of the following top-notch professionals and consulting firms:

  • Baseline Consulting
  • Center for Collaborative Policy
  • Conservation Strategy Group
  • Greenberg Traurig, LLP
  • Potrero Group
  • Prunuske Chatham, Inc.
  • Tom Origer & Associates
  • UC Berkeley- Hopland Research and Extension Center (Adina Merenlander and Morgan Gray)
  • Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger

Happy Holidays to all of you, and we will be back strong in the New Year!

John McCaull                                                                                         Samantha Thomas
Land Acquisition Program Manager                                                 Community Planning Coordinator
Sonoma Land Trust                                                                                  Sonoma Land Trust

 

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