April 3, 2019. Sonoma County lawmakers have delivered on their promise to reach a deal with the State of California to fund a planning process for the future of the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) and to ensure that the property will be maintained by the State during the time it takes to develop the reuse plan. These negotiations date back to last summer, when the State offered to transfer SDC to Sonoma County, but the County declined due to concerns over the significant liability and infrastructure costs associated with taking on ownership of this nearly 1,000-acre property. Instead, the State and County crafted a framework that accomplishes two main goals:
- the State will fund a $3.5 million effort to create a “specific plan” for SDC pursuant to the Sonoma County General Plan, and
- the State will continue to take financial responsibility for the basic upkeep and maintenance of the property for three years while the specific plan is being developed. The total cost for this obligation is estimated near $40 million.
On Friday, April 5, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will hold a special meeting to approve the agreement with the State and to pass a series of resolutions initiating a specific planning process for SDC. As the February 2019 SDC Transition Proposal states:
“This proposal provides time for policymakers and the community to begin the land use planning process to determine appropriate future land uses and development potential for the SDC site, which is currently very limited by the existing County General Plan and zoning of the property only for public uses. The proposed planning process will facilitate the disposition of the property by amending the County General Plan and zoning, completing environmental review, and addressing the economic feasibility of replacing or repairing the site’s aging infrastructure.”
From a community perspective, this planning framework is exactly what we have been requesting since the closure of SDC was announced in 2015. The only way that SDC can be successfully “transformed” from a shuttered and mostly vacant institutional setting is to create a compelling vision for the land, and then use the County’s general plan and zoning powers to authorize a new mix of uses. California land use and zoning laws authorize cities and counties to develop a specific plan to:
“systematically implement the general plan for all or part of an area…by 1) acting as statements of planning policy that refine the general plan policies applicable to a defined area, 2) directly regulating land use, or 3) bringing together detailed policies and regulations into a focused development scheme.”
The State has very limited options for a surplus property sale or inter-agency transfer for SDC until the development ground-rules and land conservation goals are set for the property. Additional concerns have been how to pay for the development of the specific plan and how to cover approximately $10 million per year in “warm shutdown” costs to ensure that SDC does not fall into further disrepair. Thankfully, the State continues to be an excellent partner during the closure and transition of SDC, and this budgetary support gives the County the resources needed to make this planning process a success. The Legislature still needs to approve this funding proposal through the FY 2019−2020 State budget, but the collaboration with the California Department of General Services to reach this agreement has been essential in getting us to this point.
There are still a lot of details to be worked out and questions to be answered. For instance, we need a conservation and stewardship plan for the property’ s open space and wildlife corridor lands and there are many questions about what type of “interim uses” should be allowed on the property over the next few years while the specific plan is in the works. But for now, this is a time of celebrating a major achievement. This agreement is good for SDC and the entire Sonoma Valley, and we are fortunate to have an incredibly dedicated and talented team of elected officials and County staff who were able to get us to this milestone.
Here are links to important background documents for Friday’s Board of Supervisors’ hearing that provide more detail on the overall proposal, and the timeline and process for the SDC specific plan.
The Transform SDC Blog site was launched 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.