“True Humans” Film Release Pays Tribute to the People and Closure of SDC

On August 4, 2019 the Sebastiani Theater will screen the release of True Humans—a new film directed and produced by Sonoma County-based filmmaker Malinalli  López and XQL Media—which tells the story of the lives of the last residents of the Sonoma Developmental Center and the closure of the facility in 2018. Tickets are available  through the Sebastiani Theater website.

Ms. Lopez worked with the Parent Hospital Association/Family Advocates United to fund and produce this film about SDC, and XQL Media focuses on dramatic films, documentaries, music videos, and educational videos to create a positive social impact. Proceeds from the screening will support PHA/Family Advocates United in their work to advocate for the general welfare of people with developmental disabilities.

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A Vision for Eldridge: Community Workshop Scheduled for June 15, 2019 at Hanna Boys Center

May 27, 2019.  The SDC Coalition invites the public to a free community workshop on June 15, 2019 from 9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. at the Hanna Boys Center Auditorium. Over the next few months, Sonoma County will begin a three-year, $3.5 million land use and environmental planning effort for the the 900+ acre Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) property, that is also known as Eldridge, CA. The purpose of the June 15th meeting is:

  • Learn more about Sonoma County’s planning framework for developing allowable land uses, zoning designations, and environmental protections for Eldridge
  • Share with the public and receive feedback on a proposed Eldridge Vision Statement and Guiding Principles
  • Build support for cohesive community engagement

The SDC Coalition is a group of Sonoma County agencies and non-profit partners working together since 2013 on  issues related to the closure of SDC, and the reuse planning and disposition process for the land and developed campus. Since 2015, the SDC Coalition has hosted numerous public meetings to solicit ideas and feedback on different visions and possible futures for SDC.  The results and synthesis of this public engagement process are available on this blog site, and the Wallace, Roberts Todd (WRT) 2018 “Existing Conditions Assessment” for SDC contains an excellent summary of  “community voices” derived from stakeholder interviews and public comment on reuse priorities and concerns for the open space lands and developed campus.

In the Fall of 2019, Sonoma County will start a formalized process for community engagement pursuant to their authority under the Sonoma County General Plan and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  The June 15th Workshop will educate participants about the upcoming planning process, and provide a structured and facilitated workshop setting to review and discuss a draft vision statement and set of guiding principles for Eldridge that has been developed by members of the SDC Coalition.

Speakers scheduled for the workshop include: Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin,  Deputy Director Milan Nevajda of Permit Sonoma, Richard Dale of the Sonoma Ecology Center, and representatives from the Glen Ellen Forum and Sonoma Mountain Preservation. The meeting  is free and open to the public, and light refreshments will be served. The final agenda and a draft of the vision statement and guiding principles will be available on this blog site several days prior to the meeting.

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 and plans for the future of this remarkable property and historic place.  For more information, please post a response on the blog site, or email John McCaull  at   johnm@sonomalandtrust.org.

State Releases $43 Million Budget Proposal for SDC Disposition and Reuse

April 22, 2019. The California Department of Finance (DOF) and the California Department of General Services (DGS) released budget documents today requesting over $43 million over three years to “manage the Sonoma Developmental Center and begin decommissioning activities through a warm shutdown until the final disposition of the campus is complete…” in 2022. This budget request fulfills the state’s commitment expressed at the April 5th Sonoma County Board of Supervisors hearing  to bear the costs of managing SDC in “warm shutdown” mode,  and to provide the County funding support and time to prepare a specific reuse plan for the nearly 1000 acre property.

The budget request from the Governor’s Department of Finance is addressed to the Senate and Assembly Budget Committees, and asks for an initial appropriation of $21 million in FY 2019-2020 for staffing, decommissioning of antiquated facilities, and maintenance and stewardship of the property. Pending approval from the Legislature as part of the new state budget, this allocation also provides $3.5 million for Sonoma County to prepare a specific plan for SDC. The DGS “budget change proposal”  goes into much greater detail about the Department’s three year budget and timeline, and how the state intends to handle decommissioning of some of the property’s problematic infrastructure like the Central Utility Plant.

The Department of Finance letter includes draft budget language to appropriate the necessary funds and provides overall statutory guidance for reuse priorities for the property. The proposal also includes specific protections for the land, water, and natural resources of the property and requirements for managing and caring for the property in the public trust during the interim “warm shutdown” period. The draft text includes a series of “findings and declarations”  including provisions directing”that priority be given to affordable housing..in the disposition of the [SDC] property” and  that “all lands outside the core developed campus and its related infrastructure be preserved as public parkland and open space.”  These findings are backed up by more detailed direction and policy, including several sections that honor the 128 year health care legacy of SDC by including a priority for deed-restricted, affordable housing for people with developmental disabilities, and protection of the Eldridge Cemetery.

Budget hearings on this item will occur in April and May, with a final vote on the state budget sometime in June, allowing the successful transfer of jurisdiction and operation of SDC to the Department of General Services effective July 1, 2019. This budget proposal is a very positive step forward, and another strong indication of the state’s commitment to partner with local interests to forge a solution for the future of SDC that meets the needs of our community, while also protecting the property’s invaluable open space and wildlife corridor lands.

Here are links to both of the relevant budget documents.

April 19, 2019 Letter to the Legislature from the Department of Finance regarding SDC Budget Amendments (Item 7760-001-0001)

Department of General Service Budget Change Proposal (Sonoma Developmental Center Transfer of Jurisdiction) (DF-46 (REV 08/17))

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 and reuse planning process for SDC.  For more information, please post a response on the blog site, or email John McCaull  at   johnm@sonomalandtrust.org.

State Legislators Announce “A Path Forward” for Planning the Future of SDC

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.

BOS SDC Agenda April 5, 2019

SDC Transition Plan Summary 4-5-19

Attachment A Budgetary Resolution 4-5-19

Attachment B Resolution Regarding Land Use Planning and Disposition of the SDC Site (1)

Attachment C SDC Transition Proposal 4-5-19

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   johnm@sonomalandtrust.org.