SDC… What’s next?
Now that the assessment of the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) grounds and buildings is again underway, after the unexpected and unprecedented wildfires, there’s concern that there won’t be time to complete a public plan for future disposal of the assets once the formal shutdown happens at the beginning of 2019.
Wallace Roberts Todd (WRT) is a nationally recognized urban planning and landscape design firm that was selected last year to do a site assessment of the Development Center’s 142 buildings and extensive grounds, including figuring out the best future uses for the property.
The California Department of General Services (DGS) is responsible for all state property, including the SDC buildings and grounds, and is overseeing WRT’s work. Spokeswoman Jennifer Lida said the fire did cause a delay in the process, but said, “They (WRT) were given more time to complete the assessment to account for the duration of site inaccessibility due to the fires. However, the report will be completed well in advance of the SDC closure.”
The SDC is being closed because of national and state policies that frown on large care centers for the developmentally disabled, no matter how severe the condition of the clients. Of California’s seven major developmental centers, SDC is one of three still in operation. Fairview DC and the general population portion of Porterville DC will be closed by the end of 2021. A 55-bed facility near Palm Springs has not been affected by the push to close the larger centers. All remaining patients at the SDC are mandated to be removed by the end of 2018, and the facilities completely shut down. What will happen to the buildings and grounds is of major concern to many Sonoma residents and groups.
The Department of Developmental Services (DDS) which oversees the SDC has found no roadblocks to moving their clients.
DDS spokeswoman Nancy Lungren said that, “All SDC residents are expected to be transitioned to the community by December.” The October fires “did not cause any delays to the projected closure date.”
There were 149 clients remaining at the SDC on Feb. 15, Lungren said. And while they will be moved on time, “Final decisions regarding the status and disposition of the buildings and property have not been made.” She added, “I understand that most buildings will be left in a ‘warm shutdown’ condition that will require upkeep.”
A warm shutdown means that buildings and other structures need to keep their heat on, if only minimally, and the water pipes flowing, and otherwise be kept in good condition.
“The estimated cost of $8.8 million for warm shutdown is included in DDS’ proposed 2018-19 Governor’s Budget,” Lungren said. “It covers the six-month warm shutdown period from Jan 1, 2019, through June 30, 2019.” Further funding would be allocated by the 2019-2020 budget.
Assessment so far
Most of the actual assessment work had been accomplished by September of 2017. The draft findings indicate that much of the physical plant is obsolete and in dire need of upgrades if not outright replacement. For instance, the Central Utility Plant that provides steam heat and cold water to most of the buildings on campus is considered obsolete or requires significant upgrades to meet modern building codes.
The campus has historically been served by a central utility plant which may not be the best option moving forward. “Decentralized / conventional systems may be more appropriate for incremental growth of campus reuse,” the draft report concluded.
A representative cross-section of buildings were assessed by looking at plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems, and most were found to need replacement or significant upgrades. About the only systems that don’t need a lot of work are the drinking water distribution networks, which have been fairly well kept up.
Much of the critical decision making lies ahead. In summing up, the draft report identifies areas that need to be addressed:
Addressing Infrastructure Deficiencies
Upgrading on-site utility systems
Integration with regional infrastructure systems
Need for off-site improvements
Evaluating scope of potential reuse program
Civic and Institutional
Establishing the Transition Process
Ownership and governance options
Disposition options (how title is transferred)
Community InputAs part of its assessment work, WRT created an SDC Community Advisory Committee (CAC) comprised of a broad range of local stakeholders. The CAC’s purpose is “to provide comments to the WRT team on the Site Assessment findings and to offer input regarding the opportunities and constraints for the SDC site.”
John McCaull, land acquisition manager for the Sonoma Land Trust, wrote in a Feb. 14 blog post on the Transform SDC website, “After what essentially turned into a three-month delay, the next CAC meeting has been scheduled for March 22 from 1 to 5 p.m. at the SDC campus.” Transform SDC is a project of the Sonoma Land Trust.
McCaull wrote, “After the September CAC meeting, WRT was planning on finishing the site assessment, presenting the findings one more times to our committee, and then holding a public meeting in Sonoma where the whole community would be briefed on this critical information. According to the new timeline, after the CAC meets in March, the public meeting is likely to happen in mid-April. Once the site assessment is completed, we will reach a critical juncture: will WRT continue to lead the effort to develop reuse alternatives for SDC, and can we act quickly enough to have a plan in place before SDC closes in December?”
Links to the Sep. 28, 2017 CAC meeting summary, and WRT’s presentation which documented their work to date on the site assessment are posted at transformsdc.com.
Another unknown is that fact that California has a strong governor’s office that will no doubt change with the departure of the highly experienced Jerry Brown this year. What changes his successor will bring to the disposition of the SDC buildings and land are unclear, prompting many local people concerned with the outcome to want to see a finished plan before the end of the year.