SDC Hiking and Biking Trails Remain Open for Public Use After Road Closure Announcement

January 16, 2020.  After some confusion about new rules related to road closures at SDC, the California Department of General Services and Permit Sonoma have clarified that all of the existing hiking and biking trails on the SDC property are still open and available for public use consistent with visitor rules for public safety and natural resource protection. This includes the trails around Lake Suttonfield that are accessible from Sonoma Valley Regional Park, and the trails on the western portion of the property that connect with Jack London State Historic Park.

In a January 9, 2019 letter to the community (see below), the California Department of Developmental Services details the road closures going into effect on the campus that are designed to prevent vandalism, trespass, and property damage to empty buildings and aging infrastructure. As the letter states, pedestrian and cyclist access is still allowed. A reference in the letter to a prohibition on “hiking” at Lake Suttonfield and Fern Lake caused public confusion and concern, and the state and county were quick to clarify that hiking on designated trails that go along the perimeter of the lakes is still allowed. For obvious public safety and liability concerns, the state does not want people leaving trails to access the lakes directly. This is consistent with the longstanding prohibition on swimming and fishing in the lakes at SDC as well.

The Sonoma Ecology Center, the Sonoma Land Trust, and the Glen Ellen Forum have offered to work with the state to develop trail maps and signposts to keep hikers in the areas where they are supposed to be, and to educate visitors about how they can support stewardship and protection of the land. We will keep you updated on the status of this effort. Meanwhile, if you are taking a hike, cycling, or walking your dog at SDC, please remember that when the facility closed in 2018, a lot of the maintenance, landscaping, and engineering staff were laid off.  At this point, there are no full time rangers or personnel similar to state or county park rangers or volunteers at nearby parks. The state is rightfully concerned about limiting the potential for injury, harm, and water contamination at SDC, so let’s all do our part by observing trail rules and signs, packing out all trash and animal waste, and working together to take care of this remarkable community asset.

January 2020 Public Safety Road Closures at SDC

By John McCaull, Land Acquisition Program Manager, Sonoma Land Trust

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.

SDC Coalition Releases Summary Report of June 2019 “Vision and Guiding Principles” Public Workshop

December 16, 2019.  On June 15, 2019, the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) Coalition convened a public workshop at the Hanna Boys Center in Sonoma with three central goals:

• to share with the public and receive feedback on a draft Eldridge Vision Statement and Guiding Principles prepared by the SDC Coalition Leadership team;
• to build support for cohesive community engagement;
• to learn more about the planning framework for the Eldridge Specific Plan.

The results of the June 2019 community workshop–and the feedback we received on the draft vision and guiding principles–is now available. Please follow the link below to read the report which is designed to guide the County’s specific planning process and clarify the hopes and wishes articulated by the public to date.

Eldridge workshop summary_12-13-19_final

Sonoma County Prepares to Kick-Off Reuse Planning for SDC in 2020

December 16, 2019.  After several months of negotiations, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is set to approve an agreement with the California Department of General Services (DGS) that will release $3.5 million in funding to prepare a Specific Plan for the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC).  As the staff report for the December 17, 2019 Board meeting states:

“A Specific Plan is needed to represent the community’s vision and facilitate the site’s redevelopment. The overall goal of the Specific Plan effort is to guide future development to achieve an attractive and sustainable vision, which includes viable mixed uses and economic development, affordable housing opportunities, open space and resource conservation, cultural and historical preservation.The development articulated through the Specific Plan must be compatible in scale with the surrounding community, and consistent with State, County, and community goals”

Sonoma County has selected the urban and regional planning firm Dyett and Bhatia (D&B) to prepare the SDC Specific Plan as part of a $1.476 million contract. The goal is to have the plan prepared for Board consideration by December 2021 after D&B has completed a public process to “inform, engage, and solicit input from all segments of the community…” Their work plan includes:

  • Prepare a market demand analysis that will guide the selection of land use alternatives
  • Identify the infrastructure and public service needs/costs to facilitate future development
  • Explore alternatives for reuse of existing facilities and buildings
  • Establish a land use and policy framework to guide future redevelopment to be compatible and in character with the surrounding community
  • Promote healthy neighborhood design guidelines and enhance opportunities for alternative modes of transportation
  • Create design guidelines that promote an attractive and vibrant, pedestrian and bicycle friendly community
  • Develop a plan to connect to and preserve open space and natural resource areas, including wildlife corridors within the campus area
  • Prepare an Implementation and Financing Plan to facilitate improvements in accordance with the Specific Plan
  • Prepare an Environmental Impact Report in compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)

In addition to public meetings, workshops, and soliciting comments on the draft Specific Plan, the County has also appointed a 15 member “Planning Advisory Team” (PAT) to work with County staff, consultants, and the public on the SDC Specific Plan. The PAT’s mission is:

to promote a Specific Plan that reflects community needs and goals for the site while recognizing future development opportunities and constraints. The PAT will seek to represent the broad interests of the community, review Specific Plan materials and documents, and serve as ambassadors to the public, sharing information and encouraging participation in the planning process.”

We expect that the County will hold the first meeting of the PAT in early 2020, with public meetings to follow in the 1st quarter of the year. For more information on the process, visit Permit Sonoma’s website at: Sonoma Developmental Center 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   johnm@sonomalandtrust.org.

Sonoma County Seeks Applicants for SDC Planning Advisory Team

September 4, 2019.   Sonoma County has taken the first step in what will be a multi-year effort to create a specific plan for the former site of the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) by releasing an application for community members to serve on a Planning Advisory Team to help develop the specific plan.  Follow this link to Sonoma County’s dedicated page to SDC for the advisory team application. The application deadline is October 4, 2019.

As the Sonoma County website for SDC states,  “The SDC Specific Plan will guide future development at the SDC site. The Plan seeks to define and achieve a clear vision for the future of the site, which includes consideration of mixed uses, economic development opportunities, affordable housing, open space and resource conservation, as well as cultural and historical preservation.”

The County is also committed to engaging with the community to build a consensus vision for the site’s future.  As Supervisor Susan Gorin stated in the press release for the application announcement, “There has been a tremendous amount of community engagement in the Sonoma Developmental Center. The Planning Advisory Team is a great opportunity for community members to build on this work to create the vision for the future of this special place.”

The three main task of the Team are to (1) advise county staff and consultants as a sounding board for plan development (2) review specific plan materials and (3) serve as ambassadors to the public.  The Team’s composition will include 13 members as follows:

  • 2 will be representatives of community organizations active in the Glen Ellen-SDC area, selected by the Permit Sonoma Director
  • 3 will be community members with technical expertise relevant to planning for the SDC site
  • 8 will be community members at large, at least 5 of the members will reside or work within 2 miles of the SDC site

The County has developed the following mission statement, core values, and duties to inform potential applicants of what to expect if selected for the Team. This will be a considerable time commitment for Team members, with likely monthly meetings over the three year planning time frame.

For more information about the County’s specific plan process and to sign up for their email updates, go to:  https://sonomacounty.ca.gov/PRMD/Long-Range-Plans/Sonoma-Developmental-Center/.

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.

“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.

TRUEHumansInvitation (3).jpg

For Your Consideration: A Draft Vision for SDC

On June 15, the SDC Coalition will host the Eldridge Vision Workshop, where the public is invited to learn more about the forthcoming specific land use planning process and provide feedback on a draft vision statement and guiding principles for redevelopment of the Eldridge property (formerly the Sonoma Developmental Center). The vision statement and guiding principles, provided in advance for your consideration, were distilled from input gathered over the past five years and are intended to help guide Sonoma County and California officials throughout transition and into the future. Your comments and feedback are welcomed and important!

Please join the conversation on June 15, from 9 a.m. to noon, at Hanna Boys Center (17000 Arnold Dr., Sonoma, CA 95476).

Read the draft vision statement.


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.

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.

“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.