Sonoma Land Trust Submits Comment Letter on SDC Specific Plan and Offers to Partner with State & County on Wildlife Corridor Studies

March 29, 2022 – Sonoma Land Trust has submitted detailed comments on the Notice of Preparation to Permit Sonoma, the planning body for the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC), as part of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) process. In addition, Sonoma Land Trust is offering to partner with the county and the state to conduct the necessary detailed studies to document wildlife concentrations and movement at SDC.

“The negative ramifications of an incomplete and inaccurate Environmental Impact Report are often substantial and irreversible,” said Eamon O’Byrne, executive director of Sonoma Land Trust. “While we applaud the state’s focus to protect biodiverse areas and provide affordable housing, we feel the current SDC redevelopment proposals, as outlined, devastatingly fall short to do either. We believe there is a planning and development path that will support this unique piece of land ecologically, while providing support for those in need of housing.”

As outlined in the letter, the Notice of Preparation for SDC was developed to meet the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) but fails to do so. The letter also details what the EIR for SDC must address, including the following:

  • The EIR must include a complete analysis of the environmental impacts of various types of development within this proposed range and must include these project variants in its core analysis rather than as alternatives to the project. The Notice of Preparation states that the SDC project will consist of between 450 and 1000 residential units. It does not provide specific details about the location or intensity of proposed uses at the SDC.
  • The State’s own 2019 governing legislation and the Plan’s adopted Guiding Principles require preserving the SDC’s ecological resources, including the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor. The EIR must accurately describe wildlife’s use of the Corridor and the SDC site and conserve and enhance irreplaceable habitat areas. The EIR must employ the latest scientific tools, datasets, and studies so that the public and decision-makers may fully understand, design around, and mitigate for development impacts to SDC’s ecological resources.
  • The Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor serves as a critical linkage in a larger corridor from coastal Marin County to eastern Napa County. Because of its regional significance, analysis of cumulative impacts on the Corridor should include an area that is large enough to account for the movements of local populations of the widest-ranging species present (i.e., mountain lions) and evaluate the impacts of all the different types of development proposed for the property that will impact the permeability of the Wildlife Corridor and the ecosystem services it provides.
  • The project must incorporate appropriate buffers between development and sensitive habitats, such as watercourses and wetlands, to protect the ecological value of the SDC site and the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor. This may require the removal of existing, unused structures. Buffers will be particularly critical to protecting the species that rely on the Wildlife Corridor.
  • The County must analyze wildfire risk and plan for safety to preserve the ecological value of the SDC site and the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor. The County cannot approve development that would require vegetation management in areas (or to a degree) that would negatively impact the Wildlife Corridor or build new roads that will fragment intact habitat areas and eliminate or significantly disrupt wildlife use.
  • The EIR must consider how development at SDC will increase future water demand at the regional scale and analyze the resulting ecological impacts from such water use. The EIR must consider the water use impacts on sensitive aquatic resources and groundwater, especially during drought conditions, and evaluate how these impacts will affect fish and wildlife that rely on local water sources for survival.

To view the full letter to Permit Sonoma, please visit: https://sonomalandtrust.org/current-initiatives/sonoma-developmental-center/

Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Facing Critical Decision on Scope of Environmental Review for SDC Specific Plan

On January 25, 2022 the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors (Board) will provide guidance and comment on a “project description framework” for the redevelopment of the 180 acre historic campus at the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC). The Board will review a presentation from Permit Sonoma staff and their consultants that recommends a planning framework for “a mix of civic, residential, commercial, and institutional development” including 1000 new homes and “1,000 new jobs created from new local-serving retail, office and visitor-serving uses.” After receiving comment from the Board, Permit Sonoma will then “refine a project description and evaluate it as part of the project’s draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR).”

The “project description” is a legal term used in the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) that means “the whole of an action, which has a potential for resulting in either a direct physical change in the environment, or a reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change in the environment…” The reason why the project description is so important is that it forms the foundation for evaluating the potential environmental impacts of all the different aspects of the SDC Specific Plan. The staff proposal that the Board is considering has not gone through any level of rigorous environmental review, and so the specific, likely impacts of the proposed development on concerns such as water quality and quantity, the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor, climate change resilience, traffic, fire safety and the rural character of the surrounding area have yet to be identified and studied.

Once the project description is finalized, the county will release a “Notice of Preparation” and Initial Study for the Draft EIR. The minimum content requirements for the Notice are:

  • Description of the project
  • Location of the project indicated on an attached map
  • Salient environmental issues
  • Probable environmental effects of the project
  • A copy of the Initial Study which is a preliminary analysis conducted  to determine if a project may have a significant effect on the environment.

According to the schedule in the staff report, the Draft EIR and Draft Specific Plan will be available for public review by June 2022. The Planning Commission will then hold two public hearings to receive public comment on the draft EIR in July 2022 and to potentially adopt a resolution in August 2022 recommending that the Board of Supervisors consider certifying a final EIR and adopt a final Specific Plan. Ultimately, the Board of Supervisors may consider certifying a final EIR and adopting a final Specific Plan in September 2022.

The Sonoma Land Trust has submitted the following comments to the Board on the project description framework and we urge you to contact your Supervisor to share your thoughts and concerns about the SDC Specific Plan by filing online comments at: https://sonomacounty.ca.gov/Board-of-Supervisors/Contact-Board-of-Supervisors/. Once the Notice of Preparation is issued, we will provide more information about the CEQA process and how the public can effectively comment during the preparation of the Draft Environmental Impact Report.

_______________________________________________________________________________

January 24, 2022

RE: SDC Specific Plan Project Description Framework

Dear Sonoma County Board of Supervisors:

SDC provides an opportunity for a major win for two critical state and county priorities: creating more affordable housing and using nature-based solutions to adapt to climate change. There is broad community support for zoning the most significant affordable housing project in the history of the Sonoma Valley at SDC (450 +/- units), and for creating the largest addition to our state and county park system in decades with precedent-setting land use protections for the wildlife corridor. That’s why we support the North Sonoma Valley MAC and the Springs MAC proposals as the starting point for the project description, as they have a more reasonable development footprint and density and 25% more affordable housing than what has been proposed by the county.

We are particularly alarmed at the proposal for an additional road linking Arnold Drive to Hwy 12 to allow for increased traffic from up to 1000 new homes and 1000 new jobs on the campus. Our decade of research at SDC indicates that this would severely damage the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor. The new proposed road would also run right through the community separator that Sonoma County residents put into place through Measure K to prevent the intensification of development and ensure land within community separators remains open and retains its rural character. Constructing such a road to facilitate increased development at SDC would conflict not only with the intent of Measure K but with many other goals and policies of the County’s General Plan calling for protection of open space and agricultural land.

While we understand that the California Department of General Services (DGS) has repeatedly refused to accommodate any requests for adjustment to the planning schedule, we believe that failure to do so will simply condemn the whole process to protracted litigation. This will harm the health of the wildlife corridor and postpone much-needed affordable housing in the County. Finally, we urge the County to partner with community groups and the Governor to support a greater state investment in the future of SDC. Facing the twin crises of climate change and affordable housing, a new paradigm is essential. This is implicitly recognized by the line item in the Governor’s proposed budget request for $100M in funding to promote the conversion of surplus state property into affordable housing sites.

Thank you for your consideration of our concerns.

Eamon O’Byrne

Executive Director

The Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor Needs Your Help

Please attend the public hearings on November 13th and November 17th regarding the proposed development alternatives for SDC and follow the link above to read an important message from Sonoma Land Trust’s Executive Director Eamon O’Byrne about how you can make a difference in saving this regional environmental treasure.

SDC Specific Plan Process Moving Forward with Revised Timeline and Public Outreach Plan

April 17, 2020. Even with California’s “stay at home” order in place, and with the state and nation facing widespread economic and social disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic, the commitment by Sonoma County to complete a specific plan by the end of 2021 for the future reuse of the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) is thankfully proceeding forward.

In 2019, the County secured $3.5 million from the state to fund the specific plan effort, and in December, they hired the urban and regional planning firm of Dyett & Bhatia to prepare the specific plan and required environmental impact report. Dyett & Bhatia have set up a new website to engage and inform the public—www.sdcspecificplan.com—and they are hard at work completing additional background reports and preparing potential reuse scenarios for public review later this summer. Here are some of the highlights of their work to date:

Revised Planning Schedule

SDC Community Engagement Schedule 4-3-20

Community Engagement Plan

Dyett & Bhatia are planning a “virtual community” webinar in late April/early May. The original plan was to hold a Community Kick-Off Event on the SDC site, with guided site walks and hikes, games and food trucks, and an expert panel discussion about the site’s history, architecture, ecology, and market potential. A separate Community Meeting #1 to identify project goals, opportunities, and issues was planned for later in the summer. Due to the COVID-19 shelter-in-place directive, the Dyett & Bhatia team has proposed moving to the April/May online Virtual Community Workshop with in-person events held later in July (or whenever gathering restrictions are lifted). For more information, please visit the “Upcoming Events” page of the County’s new SDC website.

Planning Advisory Team

Another key aspect of the planning process is the establishment of the Planning Advisory Team (PAT). The PAT advises County staff and consultants, reviews Specific Plan materials, and serves as ambassadors to the public. The PAT is not a decision-making body—it holds an advisory role as an extension of planning staff. The PAT has held two meetings so far, and its charter, membership, and meeting summaries are also available on the SDC specific plan website.

Technical Advisory Committees Formation

The County and Dyett & Bhatia are in the early stages of gathering names to form Technical Advisory Committees (TACs). They are planning to have at least three TAC groups: Preservation (cultural and historic), Infrastructure, and Financial/Market Constraints. The County may also form one more TACs focused on Community Engagement. Potential TAC members will be pulled from the extensive list of individuals who applied to be on the Planning Advisory Team and from other local experts. The County has asked for PAT members to recommend individuals they know of who may be interested. If you are interested in serving on a TAC, please use the contact form on the SDC specific plan website.

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 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.