February 2016 SDC Update: Sustaining Commitment through the Ups and Downs

February 11, 2016:

“Even cowards can endure hardship; only the brave can endure suspense.”
Mignon McLaughlin

In this political season, the word “campaign” is everywhere, and we all know how the script can dramatically change from week to week. In 2015, the rapid pace of change related to the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) demanded sustained action and focus from all of us. Galvanized by the closure announcement in May, the Transform SDC Project, the SDC Coalition and the community at large rallied and worked together in what felt like non-stop fashion through the completion of the closure plan last October.

The proposed closure of SDC by the end of 2018 is likely too short a timeframe to safely move the remaining 375 residents, and to plan a future for the site that meets the vision of the Sonoma community. We have to plan for a multi-year campaign that may extend well beyond the next two years. Like any lengthy, complicated undertaking, there are going to be periods of intense activity, and there are going to be lulls. Lulls are difficult. It can seem like nothing is happening. Even worse, it can seem like no one cares anymore. The flurry of very public activity may have temporarily diminished, but the daily work is continuing both locally, and in Sacramento.

The Transform SDC Project continues to retain the Center for Collaborative Policy and the Potrero Group to guide our community organizing, and to engage in technical analysis of different models for creating a financially and environmentally sustainable reuse plan for the site that remains in harmony with the surrounding community. We have also been working closely with our political leaders at the County level and in Sacramento to develop a political strategy for the upcoming budget hearings, and the Legislature’s consideration of whether to approve the closure plan.

Here’s recap of what’s happened over the last few months, and a preview of where we are headed:

  • The closure plan was submitted to the Legislature in late October, which is during their fall-winter recess. The Legislature reconvened in early January, so look for action alerts or updates from us on a regular basis.
  • As we enter 2016, we have been analyzing our options and next steps. For instance, Sonoma County has commissioned a feasibility study of whether a health clinic could be operated at SDC for people with developmental disabilities who live in the North Bay. Additionally, the Transform SDC Project leadership team (Sonoma County, Parent Hospital Association, Sonoma Land Trust and the Sonoma Ecology Center) is identifying how we can best follow up on the recommendations of the Potrero Group’s Site Transformation Study.
  • The Governor submitted his Fiscal Year 2016-2017 draft budget to the Legislature in early January, and the budget committees will start debating the approval of the SDC closure plan and closure-related expenditures by the Dept. of Developmental Services in early March. This will be the time when we will likely need community letter writing and grassroots engagement to ensure that our many recommendations for the future of SDC are considered and supported.
  • We are developing a database of all the comment letters filed as part of the public comment period on the closure plan. Many of you wrote letters that detailed the stories and experiences of your family members who live at SDC, or that articulate your vision for the future of the site. We do not want all your hard work and ideas to get lost in the shuffle, so we are combing through the hundreds of comment letters to make sure we know what was said, and to capture the stories that describe why the care provided at SDC has been so important to so many people.

It may feel like this whole effort has been “keeping you in suspense,” and that’s an uncomfortable state for all of us, and especially for the families with loved ones at SDC. Please know that we are still 100% committed to realizing the community’s vision for SDC, and that we will continue to provide information and leadership as we enter a more active stage of this campaign in the coming months.

Thank you for all your activism and support of the last year, and let’s be ready to come together again on behalf of the people, staff and land of SDC.

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

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