Keep it wild, don’t urbanize!: Lands at risk in the heart of Sonoma Valley


The future of the 945-acre expanse of open space lands and historic campus in the heart of Sonoma Valley at the former Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC), also known as Eldridge (next to Glen Ellen) remains uncertain and contentious after the first round of public hearings on potential land use and planning options released last month.

Sonoma County planners proposed three similar variations of urban-style development on the historic campus that featured hundreds of single-family homes, a new hotel, restaurants, and commercial and office space, and a new road. The draft plans were intended as the foundation for developing a county SDC Specific Plan that will be reviewed under CEQA next year.

The surrounding 745 acres of open space were prioritized for conservation. However, the protection of the wildlife corridor, Sonoma Creek and other natural features were given little attention. The Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor is a critical link for multiple keystone species such as mountain lions, bears and badgers to travel from as far as the Berryessa-Snow Mountain Wilderness to the East to the Pt. Reyes National Seashore and Sonoma Coast. Millions of public and private funds have been invested in acquiring lands and protecting the wildlife corridor for decades.

As proposed, the draft alternatives would comprise the biggest subdivision and development in the history of Sonoma Valley – equal in housing units to the sprawling Temelec, Chanterelle and & Flags subdivisions on the south end of Sonoma Valley. All three alternatives would drastically increase driving and associated Vehicle Miles Traveled and Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and undermine decades of city-centered growth policies. The plans also conflict with local, county, regional and state polices to reduce climate-changing emissions, achieve equitable housing and preserve biodiversity.

At public meetings, community members, environmentalists and some housing advocates opposed all three alternatives. They called for at least a fourth alternative to protect the wildlife corridor, Sonoma Creek and other natural features, scale back the development, and commit to low-income housing for workers and the developmentally disabled – not mostly market rate as proposed. Sierra Club has not yet taken a formal position on the alternatives or the future of SDC.

The 945-acre property is owned by the State of California. It was closed in 2018, the last of the state hospitals to do so. The County of Sonoma is leading the public process to provide a plan and vision for the land before the State sells, lease, exchange, or otherwise transfers the property, per state legislation.

State legislation requires the conservation of SDC’s open space, prioritize affordable housing as determined to be appropriate for the property, as well as to increase land values, expedite marketing, and maximize interested third-party potential purchasers. Read the state law here:

The state legislation constrains the planning and re-use. It was written in 2019 before the state surplus, before COVID, and before many new climate, housing and conservation investments and polices were adopted by the Newsom administration. For example, SDC’s open space lands could be incorporated into the State of California’s new initiative to conserve 30 percent of the state’s lands by 2030, known as 30 X 30. So perhaps is it time to review and revise the state law.

Visioning for the transformation of SDC has been underway for years in many forms, but few if any of the community visions have been prioritized in the proposed alternatives at this time.

Sierra Club members can help achieve an environmentally sound and equitable future for SDC by getting updates and engaging with the many groups involved; and who need our help.

Watch for alerts as the next phase of public hearings begin early in 2022. Please contact Teri Shore at Sonoma Group if you’d like to learn more, and sign up for updates from the following:

Glen Ellen Forum

Sonoma Mountain Preservation

Eldridge for All

Sonoma Land Trust

Sonoma Ecology Center