Charting path for developmental center’s site
A coalition led by the Sonoma Land Trust has launched an intensive review of potential uses for nearly 1,000 acres of prime real estate and the buildings that make up the Sonoma Developmental Center should the state close the facility.
Dubbed the “Transform SDC Project,” the 18-month review includes a series of public meetings for people to weigh in on the center’s future. The first meeting is scheduled for May 2 in Sonoma.
“We’re hoping anyone that cares about SDC will see this as the place to bring their ideas,” said John McCaull, the Sonoma Valley land acquisitions project manager for the Land Trust.
The center near Glen Ellen is battling declining admissions, licensing problems and calls to shut down to save taxpayers money. But what to do with the campus, which includes 145 buildings, and pristine grounds surrounding it is the source of an intensifying political and land-use battle.
About 400 or so developmentally disabled people still reside at the center and receive around-the-clock care there. With about 1,300 employees, the center also is Sonoma Valley’s largest employer.
One model being touted for the center’s future use is for a government entity to maintain ownership of the buildings and lease space to generate revenue. The surrounding property under this vision would be maintained as open space or become additions to nearby county or state parks.
Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin, who is leading the local coalition, confirmed that Santa Rosa Junior College has expressed interest in creating a satellite campus at the site. But Gorin, whose district includes the center, said those conversations are in the early stages.
“It’s just one of the ideas floating around,” she said.
Gorin and McCaull cited the Presidio in San Francisco as an example of what the developmental center may one day become. The former Army post is under the management of the National Park Service and the Presidio Trust, a federal agency charged with preserving the site’s natural, cultural, scenic and recreational resources.
McCaull said one scenario the coalition is hoping to avoid is the state declaring the center’s assets surplus property and selling them off whole or in part for development. Private interests have floated proposals for the site over the years. But none of those plans ever gained traction.
Gorin said developer Darius Anderson, a principal owner of Sonoma Media Investments, told her he has no interest in the property. She said the pair “chuckle about the rumors out there that he and I are conspiring to develop an expensive resort or casino” on the property.
Anderson, whose holdings include The Press Democrat, confirmed the conversation with Gorin.
“Susan asked if I was interested in the property. I said, ‘I have no interest in the property, nor will I ever be interested in the property,’ ” Anderson said. “I would hope that whatever comes out of the process is in the best interests of the community and all the constituencies that have a vested interest in that property.”
Anderson cited a number of challenges for any developer who has interest in the site, including the historic buildings, traffic concerns and the site’s “appropriate use.”
The developmental center property is zoned for public facility use, and Gorin, who is chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors, has said any changes to that designation would require amending the county’s general plan.