Family members argue against closure of Sonoma Development Center

Dozens of family members of Sonoma Developmental Center residents pleaded with state officials Saturday not to close the 123-year-old center in Eldridge.|

Jim Anderson’s brother is named Greg.

He is 56 years old, severely developmentally disabled and has received excellent care at the Sonoma Developmental Center for the past 30 years.

Now that the state is proposing to close the Eldridge facility and transfer its 400 patients into community care home and programs, Anderson said he feels duty-bound to protect his brother from a move that would be “catastrophic.”

“I’m here fighting on behalf of my brother, because my brother can’t fight for himself,” Anderson testified Saturday.

Anderson was one of dozens of family members of SDC residents who pleaded with state officials not to close the 123-year-old center or, if they must, to put something else in its place that offers equally professional care for their fragile loved ones.

Like many others who spoke during the daylong event at Sonoma Valley High School, Anderson said displacing Greg from his environment would not only be traumatic, it could put his health at risk. No community-based care home can provide his brother with the range and depth of specialized care he needs, Anderson said.

“In my opinion, it is unconscionable that the physical and mental well-being of my brother and the other residents of SDC is being put at risk to save a few dollars,” Anderson said.

Many family members predicted that transferring such severely disabled residents to new facilities with lower standards of care and less oversight would kill them.

“If SDC closes and my brother has to leave, we’ll be burying him very soon,” said Becka Vieux of Livermore, whose brother has been at SDC for 50 years.

She and others cited studies that have shown high mortality rates - in some cases 80 percent - among disabled clients who have been shifted to community settings by the state Department of Developmental Services.

In February the state Legislative Analyst’s Office recommended closing within a decade both the Sonoma center and the Fairview Developmental Center in Orange County. Earlier this year State Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, introduced legislation calling for the shutdown of the two centers by the end of 2018.

That received strong pushback from state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, who is chairman of the Senate’s Human Services Committee and who, along with other elected officials like Supervisor Susan Gorin, attended Saturday’s hearing.

McGuire helped delay the proposed closure date in Stone’s bill to 2019. The extra time is viewed as crucial for helping a local coalition led by the Sonoma Land Trust to develop a plan for the property ahead of any actions to close the facility.

In fact, “closure” is a word many tried to avoid Saturday. John McCaull, who is in charge of land acquisition for the Sonoma Land Trust, stressed the importance of using the word “transform” instead.

He stressed that the Sonoma Developmental Center Coalition formed by Gorin has made it its mission to ensure that any future facility protects both the natural resources on the 950-acre property as well as access to critical care for residents.

David White, whose brother Richard lived a long life at SDC before he died in 2009, said that’s exactly what he envisions for the property.

“I want to see SDC transformed, not closed - transformed into a center of excellence,” White said.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or On Twitter @srcitybeat.

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