Close to Home: The promise of the Sonoma Developmental Center
It's time for the state of California to keep its promises.
It's time for us to make sure that happens.
Since closure of the Sonoma Developmental Center in Eldridge was announced in 2014, a coalition of county officials and community members have been working diligently to ensure that, in its next iteration, the property remains a viable Sonoma Valley treasure.
The spectacular parcel encompasses more than 700 acres of open space abutting Jack London State Historic Park and Sonoma Valley Regional Park. It's a critical wildlife corridor and a huge contributor to the health and well-being of neighbors in Glen Ellen and beyond. It also includes a campus comprised of about 140 buildings, some of which could seamlessly transition from current uses to providing housing and business opportunities for survivors of the October 2017 wildfires and others.
Following release of the closure plan in 2015, state officials and legislators have repeatedly assured us the site won't be “surplused,” or sold to the highest bidder. The state has said it is committed to a community- driven land-use planning process. The SDC Coalition, spearheaded by Supervisor Susan Gorin and pooling the expertise and passion of a spectrum of community organizations, including the Sonoma Ecology Center, the Sonoma Land Trust, the Glen Ellen Forum, the Glen Ellen Historical Society and the Parent Hospital Association, has been building consensus on options that would preserve the property's extraordinary values as open space and as a redevelopment opportunity.
We are pulling our weight. The state isn't in this alone.
The state has indicated its interest in transferring the Sonoma Developmental Center property to Sonoma County, and talks are ongoing. However, thus far the offer doesn't include sufficient funding to help the county shoulder the costs of managing and caring for the property or for land-use planning, in the interim and over the long term. The reticence to provide realistic financial backing for an endeavor of this magnitude would be difficult to swallow in the best of times, but for a county recovering from a natural disaster, a dearth of state funding could make the offer unworkable.
In the best-case scenario, the state would make good on its promises by:
Retaining ownership of the property for several years while the land-use planning process takes place.
Budgeting enough to pay for ongoing maintenance and security, including mitigation of fire hazards.
Securing funding to finance the preparation of a specific plan for future land uses.
Transferring the 700 acres of open space lands now to state parks and/or Sonoma County regional parks.
Helping Sonoma County create a plan for transition and long-term management of the site. The county, still reeling from the most destructive wildfire in California's history, simply doesn't have the resources.
Working with Sonoma County and the community coalition now to allow interim uses on the site. This could generate revenue to offset maintenance costs and, more important, ensure that there's a presence on the property to offset risks of vandalism and vagrancy.
Precedents for interim use already exist in San Francisco's Presidio and Treasure Island. The key is uninterrupted transition from present use to a similar use: classrooms, residences, offices, recreational facilities and more could transition immediately, presenting an opportunity to revitalize, preserve and protect this amazing asset.
And so we come to the call to action.
The Sonoma Developmental Center will close by the end of December. Please join the nearly 3,000 people who have signed a petition asking Gov. Jerry Brown to address this situation by approving funding for the property now - before the end of his term. You can access the online petition, posted on change.org, through eldridgeforall.org, transformsdc.com or sonomaecologycenter.org
The key is to spread the word. This isn't a local issue. California has always been a leader in the preservation of its remarkable landforms and historic sites. From Yosemite to Malakoff Diggins, from the Presidio to Sugarloaf, from Anza Borrego to the Redwood national and state parks, collaborations are possible. This can work.
We have a similar jewel to protect. The state of California has a promise to keep. Let's make sure that happens.
Tracy Salcedo is a member of the SDC/Eldridge Committee of the Glen Ellen Forum.
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