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There’s something positive to be found in the fact that the Sonoma Developmental Center still has a license to operate. But it’s anybody’s guess how long that will last.

The need for concrete decision-making about the future of the Sonoma Valley-based center and its 443 residents is reaching a critical stage.

This is especially true given the message sent by state health officials on Friday that they’re taking steps that could deny the Eldridge center millions in federal funding due to chronic problems with patient care and abuse. This could result in the loss of certification for the center’s intermediate care facility, which now houses 240 of the center’s clients, leaving the center without the access to federal funds needed for care.

The charges are serious, and, unfortunately, the problems are not new. The latest charges emerged from a review this spring that came more than a year after the state Department of Public Health began a program improvement plan for the Eldridge center, the largest of the state’s four remaining developmental centers. State health officials found:

Fifteen of 50 cases of suspected client abuse were not reported in a timely fashion to administration officials, police or state health officials.

Corrective measures in those cases were not made in a timely manner, increasing the risk of client abuse.

A failure to keep accurate medical records and a failure to follow proper medication protocols, among other deficiencies.

If the charges are upheld, the state could decertify seven of the 11 units within the center’s intermediate care facility, where people are treated for a variety of afflictions including traumatic brain injuries. The center had already given up funding for the other four.

The future of the developmental center is uncertain enough as it is, given the governor’s stated objective of closing or dramatically downsizing the state’s four development centers. The plan is to focus resources on smaller, crisis-intervention facilities. Long-term care for clients would be provided through a partnership with regional centers and community-based groups.

A coalition of Sonoma County groups — including government agencies, environmental groups and other nonprofits — are already discussing the future of the nearly 1,000-acre site and how such a system might work. Such partnerships may offer the best hope of proper care for those at the center.

But a potential obstacle has emerged. A bill authored by state Sen. Norma Torres, D-Pomona, would require local authorities to get state approval before rezoning could occur at the Lanterman Developmental Center in Pomona. It also would require the state to make economic development among the highest priorities for the site’s future use.

Torres says his legislation, SB 944, only concerns the 302-acre Lanterman center, but local officials, including Assemblyman Marc Levine, D- San Rafael, are worried the bill could open up similar restrictions concerning the future of other developmental centers.

It’s a legitimate concern. The highest priority needs to be the future of the 1,200 residents still in the care of the state developmental centers and developing the partnerships at the local level to ensure that proper care occurs. The emphasis also should be on developing a community-rooted vision for what should happen at the sites — not on ensuring economic development and state control. SB 944 should be rewritten or spiked.