Transform SDC Project Update: California to Begin Reuse Planning for SDC in 2017

It’s been almost two years since Governor Brown and the Legislature decided to close the state’s four remaining developmental centers in California by 2020. The Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) is first on the list for closure, with a target date of December 2018. Working closely with our state and federal legislators, and the California Department of Developmental Services (DDS), the SDC Coalition has spent the last two years trying to address two very immediate challenges:

  1. How do we ensure that over 300 remaining residents of SDC are moved into new community living arrangements that truly meet their needs?
  1. How do we create and fund a “safety net” of new, integrated medical services around the Bay Area to benefit SDC “movers” and those with developmental disabilities already living in a community setting who do not have adequate access to specialized medical care?

This year adds a new challenge: creating a community-based vision and plan for what to do with the SDC property after the facility closes as a state-run residential hospital.The California Department of General Services (DGS) oversees properties owned by the state. In September of last year, DGS released a “request for qualifications” to architectural and engineers firms to “work with Sonoma County and other stakeholders to identify viable reuse options for the improved SDC campus and extensive land holdings.” Using over $2 million in funding from the state budget, DGS intends to hire an interdisciplinary team of consultants to conduct a thorough site assessment of the property and “to create conceptual master land use and facilities reuse plan alternatives” for SDC.

After reviewing proposals from various firms, we understand that DGS is in contract negotiations with Wallace, Roberts Todd (WRT Design) to oversee this ambitious effort.  With offices in Philadelphia and San Francisco, WRT Design was founded in 1963 by David Wallace, Ian McHarg, Bill Roberts, and Tom Todd. McHarg’s 1969 book “Design With Nature” guided the firm’s ethos by “outlining an approach to planning and design that worked in conjunction with ecological realities and geographical contexts.” WRT Design and DGS have not finalized a contract yet, and given the extremely complex nature of this reuse planning effort, it is not surprising that the contract negotiations are taking some time.

There are a lot of reasons to be hopeful about the state’s genuine interest to working with local interests to shape the future of SDC. In the October 2015 SDC Closure Plan and the DGS scope of work for reuse planning consultants, the state has reiterated that they have no intention of selling SDC as “surplus property” and that “they are committed to working with the [SDC] Coalition and Sonoma County to identify potential options for the future use of the SDC campus.” The guiding principle for the reuse planning effort is to work with local stakeholders to develop conceptual plans that consider alternatives to:

  • diversify and enhance the Sonoma Valley’s economy and establish models for sustainable development and economic self-sufficiency;
  • preserve the distinct character of the Sonoma Valley’s rural communities and SDC’s natural, historical, and architectural integrity;
  • and protect SDC’s open space, valuable natural and scenic resources to support healthy wildlife populations, water resources, and recreational opportunities.

We have also learned that the state has completed a historic resource inventory of the SDC built environment and an environmental hazards assessment. The historic resource analysis and a “statement of significance” will be submitted to the State Office of Historic Preservation (SHPO) for review and concurrence. We are looking into when these documents will be publicly available, and we will post them to the Transform SDC blog site as soon as we have more information.

The SDC Coalition looks forward to working with whomever the state hires to lead the site assessment and reuse planning work, and we look forward to an open and collaborative community engagement process over the future of this incredible property. We will provide an update and more details on WRT’s scope of work, the lineup of their consultant team, and the projected timeline for the reuse planning effort as soon as they are officially announced by the state.

The Transform SDC Blog site was set up in 2014 to provide the Sonoma Valley community — and those interested in the future of the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) — a forum and information source for news related to the closure of SDC.  For more information, please post a response on the blog site, or email John McCaull at

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