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.

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.