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Sonoma’s vision for open space, affordable housing included in state budget request

Christian Kallen, SONOMA INDEX-TRIBUNE

Two of Sonoma’s most desirable goals – affordable housing and open space – are being baked into plans for the extensive Sonoma Developmental Center property, as part of the state’s recognition of the “unique and historic resources of the property,” according to a three-year budget request made on April 22 by the Department of General Services.

The three-year timeline was confirmed by state Sen. Mike McGuire, whose district includes the developed campus and much of the surrounding open space.

“We have been working for the past four years to protect and preserve the open space watersheds and wildlife corridors while at the same time establishing a community-driven process that will plan for the next generation of the SDC campus,” McGuire told the Index-Tribune.

McGuire has been working with his fellow legislators, state Sen. Bill Dodd and Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, as a delegation from Sonoma on the SDC process.

“The SDC Coalition has been working with state legislators for years to move to this point,” said 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin about the group of local stakeholder organizations she’s been working with as the Developmental Center transitions to its next stage. “We wanted a community-driven process for the future of the SDC, and we were rewarded.”

The detailed inclusion of budget numbers through June 2022 signals that the state is stepping up to honor the commitment it made to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on April 5 to bear the cost of managing SDC for the next three years, while the property is in “warm shutdown” mode, giving the county time to prepare a specific reuse plan for the historic property.

Read more at https://www.sonomanews.com/news/9556028-181/sonomas-vision-for-open-space

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Sonoma County signs on $40 million state deal on Sonoma Developmental Center

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County supervisors approved a $40 million state-funded plan to plot the future of the Sonoma Developmental Center on Friday before an appreciative crowd of residents, state lawmakers and officials who have worked for years to assure the prized property would not fall to ruin in the wake of its closure after 128 years of service to residents.

The four supervisors present voted in favor of a so-called “hybrid process” in which the state will pay up to $13 million a year for three years to maintain the 880-acre property, including 700 acres of open space, while the county crafts a development plan for the land and its aging facilities, built as far back as the 1800s.

“This is sacred property for many people for many reasons,” said state Sen. Mike McGuire, one of three legislators who helped broker the deal.

“This is historic,” said Supervisor Susan Gorin, who represents Sonoma Valley, thanking everyone responsible for bringing “an amazing experience before us today that will unleash the future of the developmental center.”

The redeveloped property will provide housing and jobs, she said, noting the center was once Sonoma County’s largest employer.

Richard Dale of the Sonoma Environmental Center, one of the stakeholders in charting the center’s future, said the commitment to local planning was “a very different scenario than we were expecting.”

“We actually have a chance to do something right,” he said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9468612-181/sonoma-county-signs-on-40

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SDC study recommends confining development to existing campus

Chris Lee, KENWOOD PRESS

For more information about the site: Transform SDC

A conceptual plan for the future of the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) proposes large portions be designated for wildlife corridors and natural areas, with any new development confined to the existing central campus. This outline was presented at a June 23 “community workshop,” hosted by the consulting firm Wallace Roberts & Todd (WRT), authors of a pending 3,000-page “Existing Conditions Report,” to offer a preview of its findings. Some 200 people attended.

The material that was presented focused primarily on the results of surveys and community outreach about the 860-acre campus, and an inventory of campus land and buildings. Notably, the land use proposal was presented as a recommendation from the consulting firm, not merely an expression of public opinion. “This is a framework for how we think the conversation should move forward,” WRT Principal Jim Stickley said.

The community input that informed the study was more direct. “A large hotel or resort would be seen as a failure,” said Tania Carlone, a facilitator for Consensus Building Institute, a subcontractor of WRT. “The general feeling was that there is a saturation of luxury homes, of tourism. Folks were consistently concerned that the development in the core campus could encroach on the open space.”

Supervisor Susan Gorin agreed that the community wants open space and parks. “This is who we are and this is what we value and believe in,” she said. Economist Walter Kieser of Economic & Planning Systems, another WRT expert, cautioned that the county’s housing shortage and low residential vacancy rate could create pressure to explore other options. “You see tension between uses that have a lot of market potential and uses that have a lot of community value,” he said. In the subsequent question and answer session, local resident Scott Braun was explicit about the possibility of a big development. “Anyone who thinks there aren’t plans out there is living in a fool’s paradise.”

Commissioned by the state, the $2 million WRT study began 14 months ago but was interrupted by the October fires. Completion is expected in July or August. As part of the study, 65 community members were interviewed. From this input, consultants identified five community priorities: protection of SDC land and water, preservation of a legacy of care, community character and historical preservation, contribution to economic diversity and viability of Sonoma Valley, and a focus on community benefit.

Read more at http://www.kenwoodpress.com/pub/a/10018?full=1

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State launches Sonoma Developmental Center ‘site assessment’ 

Christian Kallen, SONOMA INDEX-TRIBUNE

See the Transform SDC website for community and nonprofit input on what should be done with the SDC site and this Sonoma Land Trust article on the importance of the wildlife corridor through the site.

After what has sometimes seemed like an interminable delay, the wheels are starting to turn on the rollout toward closure of the Sonoma Develomental Center.
At least that’s how it looks now that the state Department of General Services has announced that a $2 million contract has been signed with a Bay Area engineering firm to perform a “site assessment” of the 860-acre SDC campus for use after the closure of the facility, scheduled for the end of 2018.San Francisco-based Wallace Roberts & Todd (WRT) entered the contract with the state in mid-April. The first step will be a “kick-off meeting” and team introduction, with the goal to develop a project schedule and define areas of responsibility and research for WRT and its subcontractors.
That meeting was scheduled for Monday afternoon, May 15, at the Slater Building on the SDC property. A final report of the group’s assessments is due in late December, after a number of intermediary benchmarks.
1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin, who’s also on the leadership team of the Coalition to Preserve SDC, said she’s “anxious” to work with the site assessment team and help facilitate community meetings so “they can fully gauge the community’s concerns, interests in eventual reuse of the campus and constraints to development.”
Read more at: State launches Sonoma Developmental Center ‘site assessment’ | Sonoma Index-Tribune | Sonoma, CA

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Tracking Sonoma County’s mountain lions

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Have you had an encounter with a mountain lion? Organizers of Audubon Canyon Ranch’s mountain lion study want to hear from you. Fill out their survey at surveymonkey.com/r/MTLIONACR.

In his office at Glen Ellen’s Bouverie Preserve, Quinton Martins has several collars equipped with GPS technology that he has used to track and study leopards in remote places around the world.
The South African biologist and acknowledged authority on big cats is now gearing up to track a different predator — the mountain lions that call Sonoma and Napa counties home. Audubon Canyon Ranch has hired the famed researcher to conduct the groundbreaking study, which the nonprofit agency hopes to use as the basis for protecting what remains of the habitat in which the lions and other creatures live.
Nobody knows for sure how many mountain lions roam Wine Country. That’s one key question Martins hopes to answer with his research. He said under optimal conditions, he would expect to find as many as 50 adult mountain lions living in the 1,000-square-mile territory included in the study.
The general public, however, usually only hears about the cats when something unfortunate happens, such as the rare occasion when a lion attacks pets, livestock or humans. Or, when a lion is the victim of circumstance, as was the case March 1 when an adult female was struck and killed by a motorist on Highway 116 near Monte Rio.
The less headline-grabbing, but just as compelling, story is how these beautiful and powerful animals, which can reach 220 pounds and stand 3 feet tall, have managed to survive in an increasingly urbanized environment, hunting prey (mostly deer), mating and doing their best to avoid contact with humans who are, in Martins’ words, “super-predators.”
Read more at: Tracking Sonoma County’s mountain lions | Petaluma Argus Courier | Petaluma360.com

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A fence too far: Much at stake as state moves to close Sonoma Developmental Center

Tom Gogola, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN
While it’s been in operation since 1891, the state may close Glen Ellen’s Sonoma Development Center, a state facility for behaviorally and developmentally disabled adults.

wildlife corridor
An essential Wildlife Corridor: the Sonoma Developmental Center has 1000 acres of undeveloped open space (Source: Sonoma Ecology Center.)

If the state gets its way, Kathleen Miller’s disabled adult son and some 400 other patients will be forced to leave the care of Glen Ellen’s Sonoma Development Center for a destination unknown.”[State officials] say they want to collaborate with us, but this is a fast-track for closure,” Miller says. “They want to close it very quickly, and almost dangerously.”
Miller is the head of the Parent Hospital Association at the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC), which the state has scheduled to close in 2018. Last week she was one of several local advocates for the center who teed off on the proposed closure plan offered by the state Department of Developmental Services.State Sens. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, and Bill Dodd, D-Napa, share her concerns and took issue with a plan that they said doesn’t address the fate of the developmentally and behaviorally disabled people now living at the facility.
“We are incredibly disappointed with the draft plan that was put forward last week,” the lawmakers asserted in a Sept. 21 press release. “The report is inadequate and lacks the specific details that we as a community expected, and quite frankly, were led to believe would be delivered.”
The question hanging in the air is what happens if efforts at community placement of residents fail by the time the facility closes? Closing the SDC means closing a facility of last resort for some residents who might otherwise find themselves getting their mental-health services in locked-down hospital psychiatric wards or, worse, in jail.
Read more at: A Fence Too Far | News | North Bay Bohemian

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State's plan to close Sonoma Developmental Center blasted

Derek Moore & Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The draft closure plan did earn wide praise, however, for its recommendation that Sonoma Developmental property not be sold off as surplus, as has happened in similar situations.

The state’s draft plan for closing the Sonoma Developmental Center by 2018 is drawing sharp condemnation from family members and advocates for the disabled over the plan’s perceived failure to adequately address the long-term needs of 400 center residents, who would be moved into community-based settings.
During a highly charged hearing in Sonoma on Monday, dozens of people railed against the closure plan, saying it will result in developmental center residents receiving a substandard level of care that poses risks to their health and possibly their survival.
“This is a cookie-cutter plan that does nothing but fast-track the closure of the Sonoma Developmental Center,” said Brien Farrell of Santa Rosa, whose sister has lived at the facility since 1958.
The state for months has signaled its intent to shutter the Sonoma Developmental Center for budgetary reasons and because institutionalized care for the severely disabled continues to fall out of public favor. But many advocates for the facility have pushed for the state to maintain some level of services at the Eldridge site, including a crisis center and specialized offerings such as dental care.
Read more at: State’s plan to close Sonoma Developmental Center blasted | The Press Democrat

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Breathing room for Sonoma Developmental Center advocates 

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A bill that sought to close the Sonoma Developmental Center and a similar facility in Southern California on an accelerated timeline was held over Tuesday until next year.
The bill’s author, Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, said he agreed to the delay after he and Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, met Monday to discuss McGuire’s concerns about the proposal.
McGuire is chairman of the Senate’s Human Services Committee, which heard SB 639 Tuesday.A month ago, McGuire publicly criticized Stone for bringing the bill, saying the Riverside County senator “would be challenged to find Sonoma on a map.”
Read more via: Breathing room for Sonoma Developmental Center advocates | The Press Democrat

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Charting path for developmental center’s site

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The site is at the heart of the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor, linking more than 9,000 acres of protected land running west to east from Sonoma Mountain to the Mayacamas mountains. The property also is a bridge between Jack London State Historic Park and Sonoma Valley Regional Park.

Deer, mountain lion, coyote, bobcat and rare species that include steelhead trout, northern spotted owl and California red-legged frog live on or frequent the site. Sonoma Creek, which runs through the center’s property for about three-quarters of a mile, is one of the county’s most significant streams for steelhead.

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.
Read more via: Charting path for developmental center’s site | The Press Democrat

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Lawmakers join fight for Sonoma Developmental Center

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Deer, mountain lion, coyote, bobcat and rare species that include steelhead trout, northern spotted owl and California red-legged frog live on or frequent the site. Sonoma Creek, which runs through the center’s property for about three quarters of a mile, is one of the county’s most significant streams for steelhead.

Habitat_Corridor_Poster-small
Map of a potential east-west habitat corridor which includes the Sonoma Developmental Center. Sonoma Ecology Center

A coalition of Sonoma County government agencies and environmental groups is ramping up its fight to protect the Sonoma Developmental Center from development and to maintain residential care for an unspecified number of severely disabled clients.
About 500 people reside at the Eldridge facility, which also is Sonoma Valley’s largest employer. But the site’s future is in doubt after a state task force in December recommended that California’s four remaining developmental centers be downsized.
Concerns the state could abandon the nearly 1,000-acre Sonoma Valley site have galvanized the local community and caught the attention of the North Coast’s legislative delegation. The group’s demands include that the center’s open spaces be protected and for public recreational facilities to be expanded, in addition to maintaining some level of services for the disabled.
via Lawmakers join fight for Sonoma Developmental Center | The Press Democrat.