Eldridge is the name of a large piece of land located in the heart of Sonoma Valley (originally +/- 1,600 acres) to which a school for children with developmental disabilities, California Home for the Care and Training of Feeble Minded Children, was relocated in 1890. This school soon expanded to also serve the needs of adults and was renamed Sonoma State Home (1909), Sonoma State Hospital (1953), and lastly Sonoma Developmental Center (1986). After 128 years of caring for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities (IDD), the SDC shut its doors in 2018. Although the institution's name changed throughout the years, as did the size of the property on which it sits (down to 900+ acres after 600+ acres were transferred to Jack London State Park in 2002), the place where a culture of care took root and continues to define the community character of the surrounding area is still lovingly referred to by many as Eldridge.
Founded by a group of nature-loving Glen Ellen residents hoping to permanently preserve a large portion of the Sonoma Developmental Center property as open space, Eldridge For All - Save Our Space began as a grassroots fundraising campaign to benefit the Sonoma Ecology Center (SEC), a nonprofit dedicated to achieving and sustaining ecological health in Sonoma Valley. Eldridge For All - Save Our Space applauds the work of numerous local nonprofits working together to preserve the environmental, historical, and cultural resources that make the SDC such a unique and priceless asset. Eldridge For All - Save Our Space serves as a platform for sharing information regarding development of the SDC Specific Plan and related redevelopment issues.
To keep the public apprised of current developments, we have broadened our scope to include information about the land-use planning process as well as links to other organizations working toward the goals of:
Calling it “a short-sighted plan with serious environmental consequences,” two community advocacy organizations have filed suit requesting Sonoma County revise the environmental impact report (EIR) for the SDC Specific Plan and scale back proposed redevelopment of the former Sonoma Developmental Center campus.
The goal of the lawsuit is to require the county to revise the EIR to address critical environmental issues and provide accurate analyses for appropriate mitigations. The current EIR is incomplete and deeply flawed, according to the plaintiffs.
The advocacy coalitions, Sonoma County Tomorrow, Inc. and Sonoma Community Advocates for a Liveable Environment (SCALE), contend the EIR for redevelopment of the 180-acre SDC campus violates the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) on a number of issues. The plan, which allows construction of up to 1,000 homes, 400,000 square feet of commercial space, and a resort hotel in the middle of rural Sonoma Valley, must be scaled back to bring it into compliance with environmental law.
“This intensity of development is completely out of scale with the rural community that surrounds the site and, because of the high wildfire risk, could endanger the lives of thousands of current and future residents of Sonoma Valley,” said SCALE spokesperson Tracy Salcedo. Portions of the SDC campus, as well as the surrounding village of Glen Ellen, were devastated by the Nuns Fire in 2017, when residents struggled to navigate backed-up one-lane roads trying to evacuate.
The EIR’s wildfire evacuation analysis found that adding 2,400 residents and about l,000 workers on the site would have virtually no impact on evacuation travel time. “This analysis defies the real-world experience of Sonoma Valley residents in both 2017 and in the 2020 Glass Fire,” Salcedo said.
The EIR also fails to adequately analyze biological impacts of the redevelopment, including impacts on the critical Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor, a pinch-point running through the property that supports the movement of a variety of species within the Sonoma Valley and as far as Marin County’s coastal region and Berryessa Snow Mountain National Wildlife Monument. Excessive development puts the wildlife corridor and the surrounding 750 acres of open space at risk, diminishing the ability of plants and animal species to adapt to climate change.
The SDC Specific Plan also recommends removal of historic structures and landscaping. Instead, the plaintiffs say adaptive reuse of historic buildings, where feasible and as required by state law, would reduce resource and material consumption, put less waste in landfills, and consume less energy than demolishing buildings and constructing new ones.
While advocates support construction of affordable homes on the site, they stress it should be at a reduced density that doesn’t transform the rural site into a small city. “If Sonoma County continues on this misguided path to create new urban centers in its unincorporated areas, in the wildland-urban interface and on agricultural lands, both lives and communities will be at risk,” Salcedo said.
Because the county’s EIR doesn’t adequately study or mitigate the environmental impacts of such high-density development based on real-world conditions, “holding the county responsible for doing the job right is imperative,” Salcedo said. “We, as citizens and taxpayers, deserve nothing less. The property, as critical as it is to our health and well-being, deserves nothing less.”
For more information about SCALE, visit scaledownsdc.org.
This article removed per Sonoma Index Tribune request.
Search the Sonoma Index Tribune database for 1/13/23 article, "$3M in state budget to manage open space at SDC."
This Notice of Determination (NOD) filed by Permit Sonoma on Monday. Dec. 19, 2022 begins the 30 day period during which the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) can be legally challenged.
Please take a look at the SDC Specific Plan project website for new content, such as a recently developed Community Engagement Strategy and an Ambassador Toolkit, meant for community members to share with their neighbors.
The Adaptive Reuse Potential Evaluation (March 2021) "outlines initial assessments for potential for adaptive reuse, preservation, and redevelopment of existing structures, with the goal of defining the intersection of historical significance and reuse/adaptability potential that will inform subsequent work, including preparation of alternatives." This 63-page report builds on work done by WRT in 2017.
The Key Informant Interviews Report (Feb. 2021, revised March 2021) "summarizes findings from interviews with key informants on topics related to the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) Specific Plan."
These and other important documents pertaining to the development of the SDC Specific Plan can be found by clicking on the button below.
To jump start your ideas, we have provided a list of suggestions below. Also, here are just a few, among many, questions to consider:
IMPORTANT: READ DYETT AND BHATIA'S MARKET DEMAND ANALYSIS!!! (Chapter 9 of the Profile and Background Report; access by clicking on the SDC image above in the sidebar)
TO READ GLEN ELLEN FORUM SDC COMMITTEE ALTERNATIVES IDEAS, SCROLL DOWN TO THE PDF BELOW OR LOOK FOR IT ON OUR PUBLIC RECORD PAGE.
For a downloadable map of the core campus, SCROLL DOWN. Dyett and Bhatia's Profile and Background Report (September 2020) contains numerous maps as well.
If you'd like to learn more about residential density concepts, check out the link below to a very useful tool. This Residential Density Guide was published in Australia where the unit of land measurement is the hectare as opposed to the acre. Our focus should be on the number of units per acre, and this density issue will vary at different locations on the site. 1 hectare = about 2.5 acres. https://www.landcom.com.au/assets/Publications/Statement-of-Corporate-Intent/8477325cc1/Density-Guide-Book.pdf
1. Provide more affordable housing than merely required by State law
2. Provide housing for disabled population
3. Provide some work force housing
4. Ensure that the size, scale, and density does not compromise the wildlife corridor and open space resources and preserves Glen Ellen's community character and quality of life
5. Provide limited commercial uses to serve the site and nearby community
6. Allow some smaller scale institutional uses like SEC and other non-profits
7. Reuse existing buildings to the maximum extent feasible, reducing demolition/construction impacts
8. Create a phased development approach to minimize impacts
9. Maintain the open feel of the property by clustering buildings and avoiding new fencing (similar to the Presidio)
10. Maintain the open spaces along Arnold Drive
11. Use architecture that fits in with the community and historic resources
Investigate potential relocation of Dunbar School to the site to better serve the community and reduce traffic
12. Be mindful of the existing adjacent neighborhoods and rural Glen Ellen Village and the existing G.E. Development/Design Guidelines; ensure continued viability of downtown Glen Ellen
SHOULD NOT INCLUDE:
1. Large lot single family residential
2. Tourism, exclusive resort uses
3. High density development that is not in character with the surrounding area and would impact wildlife corridor
4. Large scale commercial activities
5. Substantially increased vehicle trips on Arnold Drive
6. Close off campus
The Vision Statement and Guiding Principles for the SDC Specific Plan are subject to revision. Follow their evolution by reading the entries below. Check back here for updates.
The Draft Vision Statement and Guiding Principles were updated on Jan. 11, 2021 to include Guiding Principle # 4:
Balance Redevelopment with Existing Land Uses. Use recognized principles of land use planning and sustainability to gauge how well proposed land uses protect public trust resources and fit the character and values of the site and surrounding area, as well as benefit local communities and residents.
Read the latest version updated on Jan. 11, 2021
Click here for the 2020 version of the Draft Vision Statement and Guiding Principles drawn up by Dyett and Bhatia, the land use consultant hired to help craft the SDC Specific Plan.
The 2019 Proposed Vision Statement and Guiding Principles were developed by a coalition of community organizations.
This Proposed Vision Statement and Guiding Principles for Eldridge (former site of the Sonoma Developmental Center) was composed by the leadership team of the SDC Coalition, chaired by Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin. The document was distilled from input gathered over the past five years and is intended to help guide Sonoma County and California officials throughout transition and into the future.
November 14 Workshop participants were able to put their comments on the vision/principles via virtual sticky notes. This exercise was followed by small group discussions creating group vision statement/headline for the SDC site in 2040, with discussion about priorities to achieve the vision. Priorities and tradeoffs could include: Housing: What kind, where, how much? Other uses § Historic preservation: Yes/no, how much? Infrastructure § Natural resources conservation.
Here are some questions/comments on the vision/principles that the Glen Ellen Forum SDC/Eldridge Committee compiled for people to consider during the workshop. These issues were intended to help in forming a vision and setting priorities in the small group discussions. Note: included at the bottom of this email are several key components of the June 2019 vision statement developed by community organizations and reviewed by the public in the June 2019 workshop. These components are missing from the current proposed vision.
Missing from Vision/Principles:
· Ensuring compatibility (e.g., scale, appearance, traffic generation, etc.) with surrounding Glen Ellen, which is adjacent to the site on both the north and south sides.
· Minimizing impacts on the viability of downtown Glen Ellen (by not creating a new downtown area that competes with Glen Ellen village)
· Acknowledging the rural character of the site and area (not within an urban growth area)
· Ensuring consistency with the County General Plan policies regarding protection of the rural village of Glen Ellen
· Creating land uses with designs that are consistent with Glen Ellen Development and Design Guidelines - new buildings should respect village architecture and historic buildings onsite (not urban style housing).
· Shrink the building footprint area to better protect riparian areas and wildlife movement within the campus, which is part of wildlife corridor
· Maintain open unfenced areas for wildlife movement through campus
· Integrate with neighborhoods north and south
· Minimize traffic on Arnold Drive through Glen Ellen (the village and SDC site are currently walkable due to low traffic levels on Arnold Drive)
· Be mindful of fire hazard area, moderating development in the Wildland Urban Interface area, evacuation routes, etc. (using fire-resistant building materials is not sufficient to mitigate the hazard)
· Land uses should also benefit the community.
· Focus on workforce housing demand in the valley.
· Density should be moderate to avoid over-concentration impacts on wildlife corridor and adjacent open spaces that have important biological resources.
Corrections/comments on Vision/Principles:
· The site is not surrounded completely by open space; it is part of Glen Ellen and is adjacent to homes and businesses on the north and south. The vision statement is written as if the site is isolated from the rest of the community.
· Too much emphasis on urban uses and urban design, as if the site is an existing urban area. The existing campus design does not have an urban feel.
· References to the site being a standalone community rather than a neighborhood within an existing community
· What does the reference to “visitation” uses mean? Are these tourism uses? Resorts, hotels, wineries?
KEY COMPONENTS OF JUNE 2019 VISION/PRINCIPLES THAT ARE MISSING FROM CURRENT PROPOSED VISION
• Planners and decision-makers will use recognized principles of land use planning sustainability to gauge how well proposed land uses protect public trust resources and fit the character and values of the site and surrounding area, as well as benefit local communities and residents. The density, scale, and design for new development or redevelopment at Eldridge must be compatible with surrounding communities.
• Stakeholders will create a specific plan for the Eldridge site that factors in the needs and land use priorities of the surrounding communities of Glen Ellen and Sonoma to ensure that future development will be compatible with existing land uses in Sonoma Valley.
• Housing should be based on the needs of Sonoma Valley with a workforce housing emphasis.
• Redevelopment will include replacement of economic and social benefits lost with the closure of the Sonoma Developmental Center. New institutional partners may include universities, colleges, government agencies, tribal entities, and nonprofit organizations, with the goal of expanding educational options, providing job training, and creating economic opportunities close to home.
Click below for a pdf of this list of crucial issues.
On Aug. 21, 2023, DGS (as owner of the SDC property) and the Grupe/Rogal partnership (DGS developer pick) submitted a Builders Remedy (Senate Bill 330) application to Permit Sonoma for 930 housing units, a 170,000 sqf hotel, a 161,000 sqf "innovation center," 80,000 sqf of nonresidential construction, and 3,060 parking spaces. The SCALE legal team is crafting a response. Please visit the SCALE website for an update.
In the meantime:
1. CLICK HERE to read the DGS/Grupe/Rogal application.
2. CLICK HERE to read Tracy Salcedo's 9.1.23 article in the Kenwood Press.