“Protecting What We Love”: October-November 2018 Events to Honor Closure of SDC

“Protecting What We Love”
Honoring the Closing of Sonoma Developmental Center after 127 Years in Operation

Eldridge, CA. As the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) in Eldridge, CA prepares to close its doors at the end of this year, the broader Sonoma Valley community is coming together to honor the people who have both worked and resided at this essential facility for persons with severe developmental disabilities. This is a bittersweet milestone. For those whose family members were long-time residents that had to be relocated, this has not been easy. For those who dedicated themselves to a career at SDC, this has not been easy. The SDC closure will have lasting effects on the residents and employees, the SDC land, and the surrounding community.

Under the theme of “Protecting What We Love“, the Parent Hospital Association, Glen Ellen Forum, Sonoma Land Trust and The Eldridge Portraits Project are serving as a host committee to sponsor three events commemorating and honoring the workers, residents and families of SDC (see below). “Protecting What We Love” captures the true essence of what the services and property represent to Sonoma—a lasting legacy of client care and stewardship of more than 860 acres of land. Each of the event sponsors brings a unique perspective and a history of working together to advocate for the people and the land of SDC.

Through the SDC Coalition chaired by Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin, these groups have partnered with Sonoma County agencies and other nonprofits to advocate for the needs of SDC residents as they move into community living arrangements, and to call for the preservation of SDC’s 700 acres of open space lands—especially those very special places on the property where time was spent with loved ones. The future of the SDC’s open space and wildlife corridor lands has not yet been determined, but the broader community is working together on a common vision for the property.

According to Kathleen Miller, PHA Co-Chair, “Such a critical event as this closure must be given the respect it deserves, and not simply erased and quickly forgotten. We must honor the past if we are to learn from it and if we are to move on. Now we must gather our resolve and look forward. While we must do everything we can to protect the legacy of SDC, our most critical task is to continue our advocacy to protect what we love – the people and the land.”

Protecting What We Love Community Events

Saturday, October 27 through November 4, 2018: Arnold Drive through the Village of Glen Ellen is being transformed into a gallery with imagery from the Eldridge Portraits Project. The Eldridge Portraits Project is comprised of a series of images of SDC residents and families taken by photographers Christian Pease and Joe Garappolo with Light11B. For more information on this compelling photo collection, see the May 15, 2018 article in the Kenwood Press.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018: SDC is hosting its final annual Halloween Parade starting at 10:30 am on Harney Circle on the SDC campus. Community groups are participating with float entries in honor of SDC employees who are expected to be furloughed December 31, 2018. This event is open to the public. PHA and Sonoma Land Trust are also hosting a lunch buffet for SDC employees to thank them for their many years of service.

Saturday, November 3, 2018: A thank-you and farewell celebration for the general public at the Hanna Boys Center, 17000 Arnold Dr.,Sonoma, CA from 3 to 6 pm, with a brief program at 4 pm. The Eldridge Portraits Project compilation of SDC clients and family photographic prints will also be on display at the event. Advanced registration through EventBrite is required, and the event is free to the public. Due to space constraints at Hanna, the event is limited to the first 350 registrants. To register, please follow this link: 11-3-18 SDC Commemoration Event Invitation.

Action Alert: Let Governor Brown Know You Want Progress on SDC Governance, State Funding, and Land Protection

August 20, 2018. The Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) is preparing for final closure after 127 years of operation. The State of California has acknowledged the unique natural values of the property, and the central role SDC has played as the largest employer in the Valley. Over the last several months, Sonoma County has thankfully taken a leadership role in negotiations with the state on how to transition the governance, ownership, and use of this remarkable property.

As the 2018 legislative session concludes this month, it does not appear that the Governor, the Legislature, and the County have been able to come to an agreement on how to manage the transition. We are concerned that if no agreement is in place before Governor Brown leaves office, it will be much harder to maintain community trust and engagement in what state officials have consistently described as a “unique and collaborative effort” to plan a new future for SDC.

We need your help! Please take a moment to sign our petition, and write a letter to the Governor telling him why SDC is so important to you, or your organization. The message is simple: we are asking the state to keep its promises, and to provide the financial support and legal authority to Sonoma County to protect and steward this incredible community asset, and to plan a visionary future for the property.

We have provided a sample letter (see below), and we ask that you send the letter to the Governor (hard copy and email), and that you also send electronic copies of the letter to our local Sonoma legislators and the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. We have also attached a handy document with all the postal and email addresses you will need. And, if you can send a copy of your letter to us, we can then keep track of how many of you have weighed in. Please send copies to John McCaull at johnm@sonomalandtrust.org.

Thanks for your assistance, and now go and write that letter to the Governor!

Sample Letter to Governor Brown on SDC 8-20-18

Addresses for Governor Brown and Other Officials

State Releases Agenda and Presentation Materials for June 23rd SDC Community Workshop

The agenda and PowerPoint presentation for the state’s upcoming SDC community workshop on June 23rd has been released. Please follow the links below to access these documents.

In addition to providing these documents, the state’s consulting team (led by Wallace Roberts Todd-WRT) released the following note:

We understand some of you have requested a draft copy of the Existing Conditions Assessment.  At this time, the draft is still under review and the State prefers to complete that process and incorporate whatever additional input may be provided at the Community Workshop prior to releasing the document. We think it is important to reiterate that our report is meant to be a site assessment only. It is not a plan for the campus, nor does it presuppose anything about the campus’ future state. It is primarily intended to help the community better understand the current state of the campus. We feel confident that the document, when released will serve as a useful, fact-based foundation for whatever future planning efforts occur.”

Community Workshop agenda

Community Workshop presentation

For more information, contact John McCaull at johnm@sonomalandtrust.org


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 johnm@sonomalandtrust.org.

State Announces Public Meeting on June 23rd to Release SDC Site Assessment Results

The California Department of General Services (DGS), the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) and Wallace Roberts and Todd (WRT) are hosting a community workshop to share findings from the existing conditions site assessment of the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) property and to gather feedback from the community. See attached workshop flyer.

SDC Site Assessment Community Workshop
Saturday, June 23, 2018
10 am to 1 pm
Hanna Boys Center Auditorium
17000 Arnold Drive, Sonoma, CA 95476

The workshop will provide an opportunity for the community to:

  • learn about the key takeaways from the assessment.
  • talk with the WRT consulting team members about assessment findings.
  • offer thoughts and feedback about the site assessment.
  • learn about next steps in the process.

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 johnm@sonomalandtrust.org.

A Big Week for SDC: Important Board of Supervisors Vote Scheduled for Tuesday, Town Hall Meeting Set for Thursday Night

Board of Supervisors to Provide Crucial Support for Dialogue with State Over Future Governance of SDC

On May 8, 2018, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will take up consideration of a consent calendar item authorizing staff from various County departments and agencies to engage in the Sonoma Development Center (SDC) transition planning and governance structure development, and to support legislation to implement recommended governance structure consistent with County interests. According to the staff report,

“Planning as to disposition of the [SDC] property is now on a fast track as Governor Brown’s Administration has indicated that a plan needs to be in place by the end of the calendar year and legislative proposals to address the SDC transition needs to be considered in this legislative session. Meaningful input into this process from the County requires participation by a number of County departments and agencies including Permit Sonoma, County Administrator, County Counsel, Recorder-Assessor’s Office, General Services, Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, Regional Parks, General Services, Auditor Controller Treasurer Tax Collector, Sonoma County Water Agency and Economic Development Board.

A key priority of the Sonoma County Legislative Platform is to support State and community stakeholders to develop future plans for the SDC site, leveraging locally-informed priorities and preserving critical environmental and recreational resources on the SDC site. To fully engage in this initial governance design and legislative implementation effort will involve significant involvement of the multiple County departments and agencies mentioned above. Most involvement at this initial phase will be at the Department/Agency Head or senior manager level and should not impact current operations.”

Sonoma Land Trust and other organizations in the SDC Coalition are expected to testify in support of this agenda item, and this is a big step forward in formalizing the dialogue and negotiations with the state over the future of SDC.

State Legislators Announce May 10 2018 Town Hall Meeting on SDC

Senators Mike McGuire and Bill Dodd, Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, and Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin will be hosting a town hall meeting on the Sonoma Developmental Center this coming Thursday, May 10 from 6:30-8:30pm at Altimira Middle School in Sonoma.

According to the Kenwood Press Facebook page:

“The town hall will continue the community conversation about the pending closure and transition of the Sonoma Developmental Center. Officials from the California Department of Developmental Services (DDS), which is overseeing the transition of the fewer than 150 residents who are still living at the Sonoma Developmental Center, as well as representatives from the Department of General Services (DGS), who manage the land and buildings at SDC, will be on hand to provide updates and reports on SDC’s transition. There will also be updates from the Santa Rosa Community Health Center on the specialized medical hub that has now opened providing specialty care to the North Bay’s residents with developmental disabilities. The Parent Hospital Association (PHA) will also be presenting a report – on behalf of SDC families.”

The Town Hall is open to the public and will be live-streamed. Snacks and refreshments will be available.

Glen Ellen Forum Posts Synthesis of Community Feedback on Governance Options for SDC

As reported in our last blog post, the Glen Ellen Forum held a community meeting on April 16 “to learn more about options and models for the future governance of SDC, to give structured feedback on the concept, and to test community interest and support.” A summary of the breakout sessions and a synthesis of public input are now available on the SDC/Eldridge Transition Committee page of Glen Ellen Forum’s website. According to the synthesis, 13 out of 14 breakout groups support the concept of an “Eldridge Trust” model for governance of SDC, with an important caveat that the Trust would need to have local representation from Glen Ellen on its board of directors to truly represent local concerns and interests.


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 johnm@sonomalandtrust.org.

April 2018 SDC Update: With Closure Pending, Negotiations over Future Governance Begin

April 27, 2018.

Since the 2015 decision by Governor Brown and the Legislature to close the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC), California has been preparing for a December 2018 shutdown deadline for this state-run residential hospital for people with developmental disabilities.  With about 120 residents still living at SDC, the state appears to be on track and on schedule to move the remaining clients before year’s end. This is a particularly sad and challenging time for the residents, families, and employees of SDC, and the closure of this 127 year old institution will have a dramatic impact on the surrounding communities of the Sonoma Valley as well.

With closure only seven months away, there is an increasing focus on the critical question of who will take over control and management of the property from the California Department of Developmental Services (DDS). DDS has operated SDC for decades, and their staff includes hundreds of health care providers, police and fire departments, an experienced maintenance and engineering department, and people with decades of specialized expertise in running an integrated (and antiquated) power, water, transportation, and building network much like a college campus or small city. The state has indicated they have no intention of selling the property, and that it will cost somewhere between $10-15 million per year to just maintain the vacant facility in what is being called “warm shutdown” mode.

No one wants to see SDC vacant and unmaintained. With a core campus of approximately 128 acres containing over 130 buildings, there are major concerns about vandalism, public safety and basic maintenance and upkeep of aging buildings and infrastructure. The state will certainly develop some sort of site control and security to protect its assets, but the longer term governance solution is currently unresolved. A lot has happened in the first few months of 2018, and momentum seems to be building at the state and local level to try to address the governance and ownership questions concurrent with Governor Brown’s departure at the end of the year. Here are some short updates on the happenings of the last four months, and some thoughts on where this may all lead:

WRT Close to Releasing Final Site Assessment of SDC Property

As we have reported previously, the state commissioned the engineering and architectural firm Wallace, Roberts, Todd (WRT) in 2017 to conduct a full site assessment of the SDC property. The assessment was supposed to have been completed by the end of last year, but the October 2017 fires delayed the completion of WRT’s work. As part of their contract, WRT set up a “community advisory committee” (CAC) to provide feedback on study design and content. On March 22, the committee met at SDC for the first time since last September to get an update on WRT’s work. The information presented at the CAC  meeting will be released to the public at a series of upcoming meetings in May and June, but here are some of the highlights:

  • There are four main categories in WRT’s work plan: Stakeholder and Community Engagement; Ecological Planning and Green Infrastructure; Land Use, Site Planning and Reuse; and Market Strategy and Economic Feasibility. WRT will produce an “existing conditions” report, an “opportunities and constraint” analysis and a set of proposed guiding principles for future uses of SDC. The plan is to release the documents for public review at a local meeting in May/June.
  • Even though the documents have not been publicly released, WRT has completed their site assessment, and they shared some preliminary conclusions with the CAC at the March 22 meeting. These include:
    • A detailed inventory of the site’s ecological value, with a conclusion that SDC is “rich in biodiversity, and is regionally important for wildlife movement and its adjacency to protected lands…”
    • The October 2017 Nuns fire destroyed or damaged many of the buildings on the eastern side of campus in what was the historic agricultural use area of SDC
    • A “utility systems assessment” by WRT chose 53 buildings as a sample set to analyze “infrastructure condition as it relates to potential future uses.” With the exception of the potable water supply system, the conclusion of the assessment is that SDC’s mechanical, electrical, heating and cooling, sewer, stormwater and technology systems are either in need of significant upgrades, or are completely obsolete.
    • If a future use plan required a “central utility plant” and upgrades and repairs to all the existing systems, WRT estimates costs would exceed $114 million. The CAC group discussion acknowledged that it is highly unlikely that rebuilding SDC “as it was” makes any sense in the modern era where California building codes establish much more stringent energy and water efficient requirements.
    • WRT conducted a “rapid assessment” of 153 buildings to look at seismic safety and structural issues, accessibility, and the presence of hazardous materials. This assessment grouped buildings by the “eras” in which they were constructed, and came up with a cost estimate for each grouping for rehab and bringing them up to code. These cost estimates range from a low of $400 to a high of $1000/square foot, which is slightly higher than teardown and new construction.
    • The presentation on traffic patterns showed that most of the traffic was “very local with the great majority of trips taking place within Sonoma Valley.” CAC members questioned these assumptions, and we learned that Highway 12 traffic data had not been updated to reflect the last decade’s increase in “through traffic” between Sonoma and Santa Rosa.
    • The WRT team produced a set of “opportunities and constraint” maps that identified areas suitable for agricultural use, areas where there are “constrained conditions for development due to topography, access and sensitive ecologies”, and areas of the campus that seem well suited to redevelopment and reuse.
    • A preliminary economic analysis for site transition that examined “analogs” from different facilities around the country to provide examples and recommendations for models of governance and potential future uses for SDC.

The Eldridge Trust Concept: Creating a “Visionary Institution” to Govern SDC

SDC is also known as Eldridge, CA. The name is derived from Captain Oliver Eldridge who helped purchase the property back in the 1890’s, and it is a “census designated place” with its own zip code and post office nestled within the larger community of Glen Ellen. Based on the recommendations in the October 2015 “SDC Site Transformation Study” prepared by the Potrero Group, many organizations in the community have started to advocate for the formation of a new, stand-alone  ”Eldridge Trust” as a quasi-governmental institution created to manage, transform, and redevelop the SDC campus. Based upon models like the Presidio Trust, the idea is to create a “visionary institution…that brings together the particular cultural and historical heritage of its place with its community’s aspirational values — be they conservation, innovation, or a celebration of the arts — to create world class institutions that are greater than the sum of their parts.”

The buildings and campus are an obvious management concern, but so is the 700+ acres of open space and wildlife corridor lands that stretch from the eastern slopes of Sonoma Mountain to the Valley floor along Highway 12. These lands are currently open to the public and used by thousands of local residents and visitors for hiking, biking, and recreational use. Another pillar of the transformation of SDC is that “any transition of the SDC property provides safeguards for the area’s wildlife passage, habitat connectivity, and biological diversity.” So, concurrent with the idea of forming a new trust for the developed portions of the property, local organizations and county agencies have been developing a proposal for annexation of SDC lands into Jack London State Park and Sonoma Valley Regional Park.

As mentioned, Closure of SDC will be expensive. The State has indicated they intend to retain ownership of the property but there is no clear “heir apparent” to DDS for site control and management. The State has also expressed strong support for a community-led planning process that will preserve and enhance the character of the site, while leading to financial self-sufficiency. The Potrero Group study looked at examples from all over the country to develop case studies of successful “transformations” of large public facilities, and to learn key lessons in partnership, governance, land transfer, and funding strategies. Potrero pointed to the establishment of the Presidio Trust as perhaps the most innovative and successful model for Sonoma to consider. As they stated in their report:

The Presidio Trust is among the most successful of the models we examined. In the Trust model, the government created a wholly owned corporation that retains ownership of the land and facilities. Over a 15-year timeframe, the site has become financially self-sufficient while maintaining core activities that are important to the community and the government. Of course, the model is not without its detractors, but few models exist that successfully balance a remarkable transformation with a strong mission while simultaneously reaching self-sufficiency.”

Glen Ellen Speaks:  Community Signals Initial Support  for “Eldridge Trust” Model 

On April 16, over 250 people gathered in the multi-purpose room of the Dunbar Elementary School to learn more about the concept of a trust governance model for SDC, to give structured feedback on the concept, and to test community interest and support. The Glen Ellen Forum hosted the meeting, and after presentations by the members of the Forum’s SDC/Eldridge Committee, the Glen Ellen Historical Society, the Sonoma Land Trust, the Sonoma Ecology Center, and Supervisor Susan Gorin, members of the public were invited to ask questions. After the presentations, breakout groups were formed to provide input on a list of questions. In addition, the public had the opportunity to fill out comment forms and submit questions in writing. Detailed results of the community workshop will be released soon by the Forum, but initial feedback from the community signaled strong support for the trust concept, albeit with concern that local representation on the trust board would be critical. To view the workshop video, please visit the GE Forum SDC/Eldridge Committee webpage or watch it here.  


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 johnm@sonomalandtrust.org.

Sonoma Developmental Center site assessment back on track, but closure certain

This article was originally printed in the Sonoma Index-Tribune on February 26, 2018. 

The fires that ravaged Sonoma Valley during October affected many lives in countless ways, displacing hundreds locally and thousands across the county in its wake. But in spite of that disaster, the fate of the Sonoma Developmental Center remains on course for complete closure by the end of the year.

That was the original date set by Gov. Jerry Brown in his May Revision to the 2015-16 state budget, and the Department of Developmental Services is sticking to it…Read More

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 johnm@sonomalandtrust.org.