Assessment underway for SDC
A five-year look at Eldridge grounds, buildings
Wallace, Roberts and Todd, a large planning and design group with offices in San Francisco and Philadelphia, was awarded a $2 million contract to assess the buildings and lands of the Sonoma Developmental Center, with an eye to future use. Known worldwide as WRT, the firm is prominent for tackling big projects – like a development plan for lower Manhattan, post-Katrina New Orleans, the Adobe campus in Utah, and large, urban planning projects worldwide.
At stake is the future of the extensive lands and aging structures at the institution, which has served the developmentally disabled and mentally ill since it was built in 1883.
The contract between the California General Services Department (GSD) and WRT was signed in mid-April and the first meeting of state, local and WRT principals will have taken place by the time you read this. By law, the GSD oversees the disposition of all state-owned lands and properties.
First District Supervisor Susan Gorin, the Sonoma Land Trust (SLT), the Sonoma Ecology Center (SEC), the Parent Hospital Association (PHA) of SDC, and several other groups formed the SDC Coalition in 2012 to both monitor the transfer to private care of the Center’s medically fragile population, and to prepare for the future disposition of the land, situated in the heart of Glen Ellen.
John McCaull is the land acquisitions manager for the Land Trust, and spokesman for the SDC Coalition. He will be working closely with WRT.
“This is a first step,” McCaull said. “It’s the start of something big.” He expects a public meeting will be scheduled by the end of May or early June. “It’s wonderful to see the state come at this with a comprehensive approach. They are not low-balling this.”
The Coalition initiated the TransformSDC project in 2015 to make sure local voices play a role in the disposition of the property, focusing on preserving the site’s natural resources and open spaces.
The SDC property abuts the county’s wide network of trails on Sonoma Mountain and in Jack London State Historic Park, and provides one of the Bay Area’s most important wildlife corridors, allowing creatures large and small to cross man-made roads and barriers in order to maintain biological diversity.
When the Governor announced SDC’s closure two years ago, legislation was passed requiring the state to address local concerns about land disposition and provided $2 million to study the problem.
Eldridge, site of the Developmental Center, includes about 900 acres, including 1.3 million square feet in 142 buildings sitting on 150 acres. There is a complete water and sewer system, including an 800-acre-foot lake supplied by three water diversion sites. There is a water treatment plant, a fire department and supporting engineering.
WRT has the next five years to complete the basic services outlined in the contract, but there is a provision to add other professional architectural and engineering and related services such as “site development, land-use planning, additional due diligence, adaptive reuse test-fit studies, infill development concept studies, economic studies, cost estimation, disposition and governance strategy, assistance in organizing and facilitating public meetings, and stakeholder engagement.”
WRT has already negotiated hourly fees with dozens of local engineering, design and other firms for future work.
While the SDC Coalition initially was focused on the patients and their families and guardians, as the population at the Center has dropped from over 400 in 2012 to 287 as of March, the group’s focus is shifting.
“We have to talk about the land and what happens next,” McCaull said. “Our goal is to have an open space protection plan in place for the community to look at way ahead of everything else. Whatever is going to happen with the main campus is going to take years.
“The strategic goal is that by the time the state closes the SDC, we will have a framework about how the land is going to be used.”
One of the first steps in WRT’s process will be identifying the stakeholders in the process. Already included are members of the SDC Coalition, the county government, and the Center for Collaborative Policy (CCP) based in Sacramento. The CCP has hosted several community meetings on the fate of the SDC since 2015 and will figure prominently in future public gatherings. Tania Carlone is senior mediator/facilitator for CCP and she will be in charge of most of the public meetings during the assessment process.
As the CCP website puts it, “Ms. Carlone works with the Transform Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) Coalition in a community-driven planning process and in complex negotiations with the State of California regarding the closure of SDC.”
“There could be uncomfortable periods where a lot of ideas come forth,” McCaull predicted. “We need to be months in front.
“The SDC is a community separator, providing a whole vista and green space. It’s a watershed, including a third of Sonoma Mountain on the East Side. For a huge swath of valley, it impacts traffic and growth. It is a buffer to that right now. What happens there could change the face of the Valley and impact us all.
“This is a defining land use choice in the Sonoma Valley in our generation,” said McCaull.
NOTE: this article was modified on 6/7 to reflect the correct name of the California General Services Department.