SDC… What’s next?

This article was originally printed in the Kenwood Press on March 1, 2018. 

Now that the assessment of the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) grounds and buildings is again underway, after the unexpected and unprecedented wildfires, there’s concern that there won’t be time to complete a public plan for future disposal of the assets once the formal shutdown happens at the beginning of 2019… Read More

SDC Site Assessment Process Resuming After Long Delay

February 14, 2018.

As the state prepares to close the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) at the end of this year, there are a host of unanswered questions about the condition of the property, and potential reuse options. The October 2017 Nuns Fire had a dramatic impact on SDC, necessitating a mandatory evacuation of hundreds of residents and staff, and burning the eastern third of the property along Highway 12. SDC withstood the fires, and the remaining residents have all moved back in, but the other toll was a major interruption of the state’s site assessment process.

In May 2017, the state hired Wallace Roberts & Todd (WRT) to provide architectural and engineering services to prepare “a comprehensive existing conditions study and an opportunities and constraints summary and analysis for SDC.” This $2 million assessment process is complicated: SDC is housed on approximately 860 acres of State land, including a core campus with an estimated 1.3 million square feet of buildings on 180 acres.

To their credit, the state incorporated a strong community engagement plan as part of the WRT contract. In order to ensure that the site assessment is based on the best available data — and that the analysis is designed to answer the most pressing concerns of the local community —WRT created an SDC Community Advisory Committee (CAC). This Committee is comprised of a broad range of local stakeholders, and our purpose is “to provide comments to the WRT team on the Site Assessment findings and to offer input regarding the opportunities and constraints for the SDC site.”

The first meeting of the CAC was September 28th. Ten days later, the fires raged through the North Bay, and the WRT goal of producing their reports and holding a series of community meetings by the end of 2017 was lost in the tumult of wildlife disaster response. We have stayed in touch with the WRT over the past few months, and they have made every effort to get the planning process back online with the state. After what essentially turned into a three month delay, the next CAC meeting has been scheduled for March 22nd.  Here are links to the September 28th CAC meeting summary, and WRT’s presentation which documented their work to date on the site assessment:

SDC Community Advisory Committee Meeting

WRT Presentation on SDC Site Assessment

After the September CAC meeting, WRT was planning on finishing the site assessment, presenting the findings one more time to our committee, and then holding a public meeting in Sonoma where the whole community would be briefed on this critical information. According to the new timeline, after the CAC meets in March, the public meeting is likely to happen in mid-April.  Once the site assessment is completed, we will reach a critical juncture: will WRT continue to lead the effort to develop reuse alternatives for SDC, and can we act quickly enough to have a plan in place before SDC closes in December?

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

Update on Evacuation of Sonoma Developmental Center

October 19, 2017.

This report was sent out to the members and friends of the Parent Hospital Association (PHA) and tells the incredible story of how the state safely moved all the resident and staff of the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) to the Dixon Fairgrounds.

Dear PHA families and friends:

Kathleen Miller and I are touching base to let you know that all appears well at the SDC Village that has been set up at the Dixon Fairgrounds. During our visit yesterday, we were amazed to see how comfortable our loved ones are, what care has been taken to ensure their physical, mental and spiritual health, the safety systems that are in place and to experience the calm and positive the atmosphere that has been created.

All of the nursing facility residents are together in their own area and each has his/her own bed, wheel chair and other special equipment that was transported last week from his/her room at SDC thanks to the National Guard. Staff is on duty and working hard to ensure that our loved ones have the care that is required. Other residents are enjoying their regularly scheduled meals, donations from the community, field trips, concerts, outdoor movie nights and other recreational activities.

Large FEMA-style tents have been erected to create an activity room, staff rest area, and storage for all extra equipment and supplies. Portable ADA compliant showers have been set up and the kitchen is producing all normal meals in accordance with dietary needs. The SDC pharmacy has been relocated to the Fairgrounds and all the regular medications are available and administered on schedule; the SDC physicians and nurses from the units are on duty and making their regular rounds. Normal schedules are being maintained including the administration of routine flu shots for staff and residents.

The atmosphere was one of normalcy with hint of a grand adventure. There is one entrance and only staff and family members with appropriate identification are allowed into the SDC Village. Security is provided by police and National Guard units. National Guard units continue to provide all security and guard services back at SDC to ensure that all remains as it was left on October 9th.

Kathleen and I were both very impressed by what we saw and with the people we talked with yesterday. Sadly, we did learn that some staff have lost homes or are also evacuated from their own homes; some are able to stay at the Fairgrounds in their own evacuee tents when off duty. But in spite of all that the staff is going through with long hours and extended commutes, they continue to make certain that our family members are doing well and enjoying themselves in spite of being in new surroundings and experiencing new routines. The air quality was much less of an issue than in areas much closer to the fires. Nancy Bargmann, Director of the Department of Developmental Disabilities, is on site daily and the personal and political support of the Governor Jerry Brown and Secretary Diana Dooley has been critical to the success of not one but two evacuations and the stabilization and care of our family members.

Kathleen and I would also like to commend the staff that were responsible for the efficient and thorough evacuation of SDC in the early morning of Monday, October 9th. We were told that their adherence to the evacuation plan, their quick and calm responses and the way in which units were left in order were truly remarkable and were commented upon by the emergency services inspection team who came to officially confirm that SDC was fully evacuated. We would also like to thank the out of area first responders who arrived to help with the evacuation of the last two units.

I also want to say that after seeing my own daughter at the Veterans Memorial Hall in Sonoma last Tuesday and after seeing everyone at the Dixon Fairgrounds yesterday, I am confident that it is safe and appropriate to continue to work with our Regional Center and SDC staff to implement our original transition planning process/ timeline and I don’t feel the need to accelerate my daughter’s placement process. I look forward to the return to SDC and a return to normal schedules and activities when it is deemed safe and appropriate to return.

At this time, the next general PHA meeting is scheduled for the second Saturday in November and will be in the Slater Building at SDC. Please watch for information about the November PHA meeting and about the Sonoma Town Hall meeting which will address future land use issues at SDC.

All our best,

Kathleen Miller

Karen Moen

Co-Presidents, PHA



A Busy Fall for SDC Site Assessment and Community Engagement

October 2, 2017.

It’s been several months since we provided an update on the status of the closure and reuse planning process for the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC). As reported in May, the state Department of General Services has contracted with the San Francisco-based architectural and engineering firm Wallace Roberts & Todd (WRT) for a $2 million contract to perform a “site assessment” of the 860-acre SDC property, which is scheduled for closure as a residential hospital by the end of 2018. Since their kick-off meeting in May, the WRT team has been hard at work examining the buildings, infrastructure, historical resources, and natural lands of SDC.  WRT expects to have the site assessment and “constraints analysis” completed in mid-December, and this fall signals the start of the community engagement phase of their work plan. Here is the lineup of meetings scheduled for the next few months:

September 28th and November 2nd:  Meetings of SDC Community Advisory Committee

The community advisory committee (see roster and agenda for 9/28/17 meeting) was created by the state to provide advice and feedback to WRT on the site assessment process. This committee has not been formed to start developing reuse ideas, but rather to make sure that key local stakeholders can comment on the preliminary site assessment findings, and their implication on opportunities and constraints for the SDC site. We will post a summary of the September 28th meeting and the background materials distributed by WRT on the blog site in the next week or so.

October 21:  SDC Town Hall Meeting at Altimira Middle School, Sonoma, CA

(Morning meeting, details and agenda pending)

Supervisor Susan Gorin and several of our state legislators are going to host a “town hall” style community forum on the current status of the SDC closure process, the state’s investment in a “safety net” for clients moving from SDC, and an update on the site assessment process. Supervisor Gorin is working closely with Senators Mike McGuire and Bill Dodd, and Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry to develop the agenda, and as soon as it’s official, we will post more details on the blog site.

December 2: SDC Community Workshop hosted by WRT and State of California

(Afternoon meeting, details and agenda pending)

As a follow-up to the SDC Community Advisory Committee meetings (which are invite only and not open to the general public) WRT and state agency officials will be holding a community workshop on December 2nd to present the results of the site assessment and answer questions from the audience.  We don’t have an agenda or location for the meeting yet, but we will post that information on the blog site as soon as it becomes available. Please mark your calendars for the October 21st and December 2nd community meetings, and get ready for a busy fall and winter of SDC-related news and events.

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

More Money Added to Santa Rosa Treatment Center- Kenwood Press Article

An additional $2 million will augment the initial $2.5 million fund for a proposed new health care center in Santa Rosa specifically designed to serve the developmentally disabled now served by the Sonoma Developmental Center in Eldridge, which is slated to close at the end of 2018, and the North Bay Regional Center that coordinates care for all other SDC clients of the California Department of Developmental Services… Read More

Legislature and Governor Make New Investment in “Safety Net” for Developmental Center Population

July 18, 2017.  One of the most frequently asked questions about the future of the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) is what will happen to the people who have lived there as “clients” once SDC closes at the end of next year? As of June 2017, there were still 261 people living at SDC, which has served as a residential hospital for over 125 years for people with severe physical and behavioral disabilities.  Since the closure announcement in May 2015, 189 people have been moved from SDC into community-based settings. At this pace of moving 10-20 people per month, the State of California would appear to be on track to meet Governor Brown’s goal of closing SDC by December 2018.

With the passage of California’s 2017-2018 state budget last month, it is becoming clearer how the California Department of Developmental Services (DDS) is approaching the daunting task of integrating hundreds of people living on state-run developmental centers into the “community-based services” system. SDC and two other developmental centers will be closed by 2020. This means adding an additional 1000 people into a very expensive and specialized health care system for California’s estimated population of nearly 300,000 people with developmental disabilities.

What makes this particularly challenging is not necessarily just the number of people from SDC who will need new homes, doctors, medical equipment, day programs, and psychological and counseling services, but the fact that the residents of SDC and other centers have some of the most challenging health and special care needs. Many of the families with loved ones who have lived at SDC fear that the level of care will diminish or simply not be available in the system that has been set up to provide “both in-home services and supports so that more individuals could be cared for at home, as well as facilities that provided community residential options.”

Because of the tireless advocacy of the Parent Hospital Association (PHA), Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin, the Sonoma County Department of Health Services, and our state legislative representatives, we have been able to make progress in ensuring that an actual “safety net” will be in place for people who are moved off of SDC. This includes primary care medical services in a clinic in Santa Rosa, new housing opportunities, and crisis/acute care services for people who are struggling in their living situation, with their medications and health, or with behavioral and mental health problems.

In 2014, Health and Human Services Secretary Diana Dooley commissioned the “Developmental Services Task Force”(DS Task Force) to come up with recommendations on how the state could improve its overall community-based care system for people with developmental disabilities. The “Task Force” has worked for two years to better understand gaps of care in the system, and the implications of adding all the people from the developmental centers that are closing. They have now released a report entitled “Developmental Services Task Force: Examination of Opportunities to Strengthen the Community-Based Services System (Draft July 2017)” with recommendations in the following areas:

  • Service Rates and the Rate-Setting Structure
  • Regional Center, Provider and Other Community Services
  • Employment and Higher Education Opportunities
  • Medical, Dental, Mental Health and Durable Medical Equipment
  •  Housing

Coupled with over $21 million in new state funding for “safety net services”, there is reason to hope that the state will invest what is needed to make sure that those who have called SDC home for years will be well-cared for in their new communities.  For more information on the overall strategy, read the May 2017 “Plan for Crisis and Other Safety Net Services in the California Developmental Services System” which “proposes new service options to broaden the continuum of service options to support individuals with the most challenging service needs.”  

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

Assessment underway for SDC: A five-year look at Eldridge grounds, buildings

May 15, 2017:

Wallace, Roberts and Todd, a large planning and design group with offices in San Francisco and Philadelphia, was awarded a $2 million contract to assess the buildings and lands of the Sonoma Developmental Center, with an eye to future use. Known worldwide as WRT, the firm is prominent for tackling big projects – like a development plan for lower Manhattan, post-Katrina New Orleans, the Adobe campus in Utah, and large, urban planning projects worldwide.

At stake is the future of the extensive lands and aging structures at the institution, which has served the developmentally disabled and mentally ill since it was built in 1883.

The contract between the California Department of General Services (DGS) and WRT was signed in mid-April and the first meeting of state, local and WRT principals will have taken place by the time you read this. By law, the DGS oversees the disposition of all state-owned lands and properties.

First District Supervisor Susan Gorin, the Sonoma Land Trust (SLT), the Sonoma Ecology Center (SEC), the Parent Hospital Association (PHA) of SDC, and several other groups formed the SDC Coalition in 2012 to both monitor the transfer to private care of the Center’s medically fragile population, and to prepare for the future disposition of the land, situated in the heart of Glen Ellen.

John McCaull is the land acquisitions manager for the Land Trust, and spokesman for the SDC Coalition. He will be working closely with WRT.

“This is a first step,” McCaull said. “It’s the start of something big.” He expects a public meeting will be scheduled by the end of May or early June. “It’s wonderful to see the state come at this with a comprehensive approach. They are not low-balling this.”

The Coalition initiated the TransformSDC project in 2015 to make sure local voices play a role in the disposition of the property, focusing on preserving the site’s natural resources and open spaces.

Follow this link to read more.

Provided courtesy of the Kenwood Press, by Jay Gamel.

State launches Sonoma Developmental Center ‘site assessment’

May 15, 2017:

After what has sometimes seemed like an interminable delay, the wheels are starting to turn on the rollout toward closure of the Sonoma Developmental Center.

At least that’s how it looks now that the state Department of General Services has announced that a $2 million contract has been signed with a Bay Area engineering firm to perform a “site assessment” of the 860-acre SDC campus for use after the closure of the facility, scheduled for the end of 2018.

San Francisco-based Wallace Roberts & Todd (WRT) entered the contract with the state in mid-April. The first step will be a “kick-off meeting” and team introduction, with the goal to develop a project schedule and define areas of responsibility and research for WRT and its subcontractors.

That meeting was scheduled for Monday afternoon, May 15, at the Slater Building on the SDC property. A final report of the group’s assessments is due in late December, after a number of intermediary benchmarks.

1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin, who’s also on the leadership team of the Coalition to Preserve SDC, said she’s “anxious” to work with the site assessment team and help facilitate community meetings so “they can fully gauge the community’s concerns, interests in eventual reuse of the campus and constraints to development.”

To read more, click here.

Provided courtesy of the Sonoma Index-Tribune, by Christian Kallen.

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