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.
Click on the button below to read the Final Specific Plan containing all the changes made by the Board of Supervisors on 12/16/22 and other important documents.
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 can be legally challenged.
Click on the button below to read article in the 1/13/23 Press Democrat.
Click on the button bellow to read Sonoma Land Trust's response to the outcome of the 12/16 Board of supervisors meeting amending and adopting the SDC Specific Plan and approving the Environmental Impact Report.
For the time being, this article in the 12/27/22 edition of the Press Democrat pretty much sums it up.
Board scales down SDC plan
620-750 housing units endorsed in compromise for Glen Ellen property
By CHASE HUNTER AND PHIL BARBER, SONOMA MEDIA INVESTMENTS
At the end of a marathon all-day meeting Friday, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors struggled over a key question at the heart of its deliberations over a plan to shape the future of the Sonoma Developmental Center in Glen Ellen: Where to set the bar for the number of housing units?
In the ninth hour, amid haggling with county staff, the board was poised to endorse a compromise with residents who have criticized the proposed scale of construction on the storied 945-acre campus The board settled on 620 units of housing, down from the 1,000 units called for initially in the Specific Plan and environmental impact report before supervisors Friday for final votes. The state’s chosen developer could add a number of units as a density bonus, but the total is unlikely to exceed 750 units.
Supervisors also endorsed 100-foot setbacks along creek corridors while adopting recommendations made by the county Planning Commission that included capping unit size at 1,800 square feet — seen as essential to creating much-needed “missing middle” housing.
Even at a reduced scope, the reinvention of the historic institution that housed Californians with developmental disabilities from 1891 to its 2018 closure would comprise one of the single largest housing developments in the county.
And it comes at a time of heavy pressure from Gov. Gavin Newsom and state officials for local governments to do more to address regional housing shortages.
A stream of residents took to the microphone Friday to plead for a scaled-down development plan of about 450 units — a number that Supervisor Susan Gorin, whose 1st District includes SDC, has long advocated.
“Will you supervisors be affected by 1,000 homes in Glen Ellen?” asked longtime resident Vivien Hoyt. “How many of you will be stuck for two hours on Arnold Drive during fires? If you were, you’d be voting differently.”
Talk of 450 units created a significant disparity with the Specific Plan and environmental report submitted to the county by the urban planning firm Dyett & Bhatia, which proposed 1,000 units. The county Planning Commission approved that larger number in early November when it forwarded the project to the supervisors.
In the end, Gorin — a longtime resident of Oakmont north of the Eldridge campus — was able to sway her fellow supervisors. During a straw vote in the late stages of Friday’s debate, she said she was uncomfortable with a housing build of more than 500-600 units.
Supervisor David Rabbitt pushed for 1,000 units, citing consultant Rajeev Bhatia’s argument that lower density would create too large of a profitability gap for each unit, and therefore make the project less desirable to potential developers.
“Is the gap surmountable?” Rabbitt asked. “The county can’t subsidize a development just because we think it’s too many units.”
Board Chair James Gore said he, too, preferred 1,000 units when the meeting began. But when Supervisor Chris Coursey suggested a compromise of 750 units (including any density-bonus units the developer might earn), the board saw a chance to move forward.
Supervisor Lynda Hopkins was absent from Friday’s special meeting.
Not all of those who attended the meeting or weighed in via Zoom were arguing for a scaled-down housing supply. Representatives of nonprofit developer Burbank Housing and Generation Housing, an advocacy group, called for greater housing density at SDC.
And Meea Kang, who acknowledged she is part of one of the groups that submitted a bid to the state’s General Services department to act as the site developer, said the plan needs flexibility to grow.
The county shouldn’t “create such constraints that we can’t grow organically,” Kang said. “As a development team, if we are fortunate enough to move forward, there is so much baked into this plan that is absolutely elegant, that is absolutely protective of the open space, the policies around affordable housing. But we do need flexibility to deliver.”
The approved plan bans short-term rentals, an even hotter real estate commodity in Sonoma County after the pandemic.
With a concrete Specific Plan in hand, General Services can move forward in awarding a construction bid. Reportedly, the state has received at least three bids.
Friday’s decision concludes nearly four years of county planning since the 2018 closure of the sprawling home for Californians with developmental disabilities. Once the largest employer in Sonoma County, with thousands of workers caring for hundreds of state patients, the center traced its opening back to 1891.
It was one of several such state centers ordered to close by former Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration beginning in 2015.
The proposed redevelopment plan, a product of extensive public scoping and meetings over many months, marks the first time a local agency has been given an opportunity to help shape transformation of a defunct state-run institution.
Housing density wasn’t the only issue discussed by the supervisors. They also debated the footprint of the development plan, especially a swath of land at the north end of the property, on either side of Sonoma Creek. Most of building will occur on about 200 acres of the developed campus, with safeguards layered in to protect open space and wildlife habitat.
The board also wrangled over the proposed connector between Arnold Drive and Highway 12 should be a public road or an access route for emergency vehicles only.
The supervisors also spent considerable time pinning down allowances for an on-site hotel. That usage is permitted within the Specific Plan, and is another means of making the overall project economically viable. But Gorin urged a small, boutique accommodation or a small conference center, while Gore and Rabbitt were hesitant to restrict a developer in that way.
After watching the straw vote among the supervisors over Zoom, Sonoma Mayor Sandra Lowe was convinced they had missed the mark on the hotel. She believes her city will see the negative impacts of that business, such as increased traffic, without reaping any of the financial benefits. And she thinks the low-wage jobs a hotel would generate are another miss.
“Why are we not putting something at the Developmental Center that creates incentive for our kids to work there, contribute to the economy and help keep families together?” Lowe said. “Like SDC did. Those jobs had benefits and secure retirements. I think we should not take a step backward from that.”
Certainly, many of the people who have been railing for months against the scope of the county’s plan for SDC will be even more upset by the board’s vote than Lowe. A big question moving forward is whether anyone will sue the county and/or state over the redevelopment.
Glen Ellen resident Sherry Smith informed the supervisors of a recent Third District Court of Appeals decision in Sacramento, in the case of Save Our Capitol v. Department of General Services, that largely overturned the EIR submitted for a project that would redesign an annex to the State Capitol.
The judge in that case wrote that the EIR’s project description, analyses of historical resources and aesthetics, and analysis of alternatives failed to satisfy the California Environmental Quality Act. Some opponents of a large development at SDC were buoyed by that decision, but Deputy County Counsel Sita Kuteira, when questioned by the supervisors, said she didn’t believe the ruling was likely to apply to the Sonoma Valley project.
Dec. 30 was the deadline for forwarding the project to General Services, which is expected to select a developer in January. Contact reporters Phil Barber at PBarber@pressdemocrat. com and Chase Hunter at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @Chase_HunterB on Twitter.
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will vote Dec. 16 on plans to push forward a massive housing and business development at the Sonoma Developmental Center. Click HERE for meeting materials and details.
Despite more than three years of widespread opposition from the community, Sonoma County planners are moving ahead with the plan that would bring a 1,000-home subdivision and hotel to the historic grounds near Glen Ellen. This proposal increases density in the middle of existing open space and the Sonoma Valley wildlife corridor.
The county’s plans will demolish historic buildings, increase wildfire risk, impede the wildlife corridor and exacerbate climate crisis due to driving emissions
YOUR VOICE IS CRITICAL!
Submit Written Comments to the county
by Wednesday, Dec. 14 at 10 am
You can use the following guidelines for commentary
Send emails to:
Carbon copy (cc) the email to:
Sample email text: PLEASE WRITE AN EMAIL IN YOUR OWN WORDS BASED ON THE INFORMATION PROVIDED HERE.
SUBJECT LINE: Reject or Revise SDC Specific Plan and FEIR
Dear Sonoma County Board of Supervisors,
Please revise or reject the proposed Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) Specific Plan and Final Environmental Impact Report. The SDC Specific Plan is inconsistent with longstanding county land use policies for city-centered growth and protection of rural and open space lands.
The Final Environmental Impact Report is inadequate and fails to meet legal thresholds under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) as it does not adequately identify, analyze and/or mitigate the negative environmental impacts of the Specific Plan.
Instead of approving the oversized development and inadequate FEIR, I urge you to:
Thank you for your consideration,
BACKGROUND ON WHAT'S BEEN HAPPENING:
The Sonoma County Planning Commission, with a vote of 4 - 1, recommended approval of the proposed SDC Specific Plan on Monday, Nov. 7. Commissioner Greg Carr, representing Sonoma Valley, was the only “no” vote. Carr noted practically unanimous public opposition and a highly flawed Final Environmental Impact Report as reasons influencing his vote.
While a few changes were made to the plan, the buildout numbers remain the same: 1,000 homes and 900+ jobs. The Board of Supervisors will consider the Planning Commission's recommendations at a hearing on Friday, Dec. 16 (details and links to follow as the date approaches).
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, also known as Eldridge (next to Glen Ellen), is at risk of being urbanized due to county plans to create a new town with a large 1970s style sprawl subdivision, high-end hotel and a new road on rural and agricultural lands.
Recommendations from the Planning Commission now go to the Board of Supervisors for final adoption/approval. There are 3 possible outcomes at the BOS:
Once the BOS certifies the EIR and adopts/approves the SDC Specific Plan, there is a 30-day time limit for someone or some entity to file a lawsuit with the county on the inadequacy of the Final EIR. In order to file a lawsuit, the entity or person must have submitted comments on the EIR.
Note: The Board of Supervisors has an agreement with the State of California to complete the Specific Plan process by the end of the year.
For more details on the plans and community opposition see: https://sonomalandtrust.org/current-initiatives/sonoma-developmental-center/
The County Planning Commission, on a vote of 4 - 1, recommended approval of the proposed SDC Specific Plan on Monday, November 7. Commissioner Greg Carr, representing Sonoma Valley, was the only “no” vote. Commissioner Carr noted practically unanimous public opposition and a highly flawed Final Environmental Impact Report as reasons influencing his vote.
While a few changes were made to the plan, the buildout numbers remain the same - 1,000 homes and 900+ jobs. The Board of Supervisors will consider the Planning Commission recommendations at a hearing on Friday, Dec. 16 (details and links to follow as the date approaches).
The recommendations from the Planning Commission now go to the Board of Supervisors for final adoption/approval. There are 3 possible outcomes at the BOS:
Note: The Board of Supervisors has an agreement with the State to complete the Specific Plan process by the end of the year. Given the timeline, which of the 3 outcomes below do you see as most likely?
1. The BOS certifies the final EIR as being “adequate” and approves the SDC Specific Plan as recommended by 4 of the Planning Commissioners. (likely)
2. The BOS makes changes to the scale of the SDC Specific Plan and/or the policies in the plan, based on public comments. This action would not require changes to the EIR, since the EIR included evaluation of a scaled-down alternative. (possible but not likely, given the Planning Commission recommendation)
3. The BOS requests staff to make changes to the EIR (and possibly changes to the SDC Specific Plan), in which case the BOS would have to wait for those changes to be made before approving the plan. (highly unlikely)
Once the BOS certifies the EIR and adopts/approves the SDC Specific Plan, there is a 30-day time limit for someone or some entity to file a law suit with the County on the inadequacy of the Final EIR. In order to file a lawsuit, the entity or person must have submitted comments on the EIR.
Submit comments to the BOS in advance of the 12/16 hearing, which will be a ZOOM meeting. As mentioned above, details and links will be available on eldridgeforall.org as the date approaches!
Why - in the face of wide spread community opposition to 1,000 housing units and a boutique hotel - does Permit Sonoma insist on forging ahead with plans for precisely these things? What gives?
Could it have something to do with the California Coastal Conservancy and the $250,000 grant the CCC just awarded to Permit Sonoma to create a plan for a Climate Center at the SDC? Click HERE to read the Climate Center project description. Click HERE to find out more about the CA Coastal Conservancy.
A Climate Center at the SDC might very well be a great idea. Our world - near and far - is being ravaged daily by the effects of climate change, and the SDC could be the perfect place to study how we humans can help to heal our planet. But, as so many people have been saying for so long, IT'S A QUESTION OF SCALE. It's hard to imagine that a Climate Center as outlined in the project description would not be growth-inducing, thus necessitating more homes than called for in the environmentally superior alternative (the Historic Preservation alternative, 450) as well as a hotel for visitors. It's somewhat ironic that a Climate Center built for the purpose of helping the planet might very well cause irreparable damage to the environment in which it is located. Does this sort of center belong in a city as opposed to a semi-rural area?
QUOTING FROM THE PROJECT DESCRIPTION (PAGE 2-3)
Conservancy funds will enable Permit Sonoma, the County's consolidated land use planning and development permitting agency, to develop a plan (Plan) for implementation of the Center. Plan development will build on an existing economic feasibility study prepared by Sonoma Water, the County’s Water Agency (“Economic Impact Analysis of Eldridge Enterprise, Redevelopment of the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC), Sonoma County, California” (Economic Forensics & Analytics, Rob Eyler, January 2022)). Click HERE to read the study. The Plan will examine and make recommendations for the following elements:
• Governance and site control of the Center facilities: Determine what part of the existing campus is available for the Center, how the site will be set aside, governed, and managed; analyze how the project purpose will interact and coexist with other activities on the broader campus; make preliminary estimates on the cost of infrastructure and improvements.
• Potential financial partnerships, including state agencies: Research and analyze public and private funds available for providing a concentrated physical presence and focus for climate adaptation innovation.
• Outreach to the private sector to determine which innovators, inventors and investors are available to provide the economic engine of the Center: Develop strategies for approaching potential participants, including an appropriate mix and diversity of adaptation applications.
The Plan for the Center will be completely consistent with the core campus requirements that are being developed through the environmental review and specific planning process, i.e., the Plan will not consider Center development in the proposed park, green, or open spaces.
In developing the Plan, Permit Sonoma will collaborate with Sonoma Water, Sonoma Clean Power, Sonoma Transportation Agency, Sonoma County Regional Parks, Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, and various climate advocacy groups. The Plan will be developed in approximately one year. Upon its completion, Permit Sonoma will make the Plan available to the developer selected via the DGS disposition process for use in refining their development plans such that the Center can be used to both study climate action, and demonstrate/implement sustainable community principles and practices in its daily operation.
FOR PERMIT SONOMA TO SUDY SDC CLIMATE CENTERDownload PDF
90% are in favor of a smaller development. 0% for a hotel!Download PDF
Read about the June 6 protest in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/protest-in-glen-ellen-over-sdc-redevelopment/
June 7: Reasons for Protest
Seeing that 1) the Specific Plan Draft EIR (Environmental Impact Report) hasn’t been released (coming out sometime in late July); and 2) consequently, the public has not had an opportunity to provide input on it (two steps necessary to finalizing the SDC Specific Plan), it is truly shocking that on May 17 the CA Department of General Services (DGS) released its Request For Proposal (RFP). Why? Because DGS is now asking developers to prepare bids to purchase the 180-acre core campus with no concrete project description, no comprehensive site plan (which should have been part of the Notice of Preparation for the required environmental impact report per CEQA), no public comment on the Draft EIR, and no real guarantees that SDC open space will remain in the public trust or even open to the public.
What does this mean? It means developers are left to come up with their own plans with NO PUBLIC INPUT. The state’s Request for Proposals (RFP) outlines expectations from potential buyers and overlapping timelines that undermine Sonoma County’s specific planning process, which remains incomplete. This means public comment received so far by Sonoma County — all of our input into what was touted as a community-driven process — won’t be finalized and incorporated into plans before a developer is chosen by the state prior to adoption of the specific plan. The RFP does not specify how the ~750 acres of open space that surround the core, which elected officials and bureaucrats have always promised would be preserved as public parkland, will be dealt with. The fate of the SDC’s precious natural resources - and public access to those resources - remains in limbo.
In light of this total breakdown in the SDC Specific Plan process, a small group of community activists called for a peaceful Protest In Support of Stopping the Eldridge Disaster! (PISSED!). Having advocated for years to preserve SDC open space and protect the wildlife corridor from being undermined by overdevelopment of the core campus, organizers of the PISSED! Protest have 4 critical demands of County and State officials:
Approximately 75 people attended the PISSED! Protest on Monday, June 6 at 12:30pm on the SDC campus at the main entrance to the SDC (intersection of Arnold Drive and Harney). Protesters gathered on the day DGS had invited interested developers to tour the SDC property.
HOT OFF THE PRESS. READ ALL ABOUT IT!
Tracy Salcedo has written an excellent article, Focus on the SDC: Open space and the public trust, explaining why the DGS Request For Proposal (RFP) constitutes a betrayal of the public trust and paves the way for all of the SDC land - core campus and open space - to forever be removed from public ownership. Christian Kallen further details problems with the RFP in his article, Sonoma Developmental Center up for sale. You'll find these two articles in the Kenwood Press (June 1, 2022). Read them!
BY THE WAY...
The official website for the SDC Specific Plan (www.sdcspecificplan.com) has a page where all official documents are supposed to be posted. According to the website, documents are routinely posted at the TOP of the Documents page in the order they are released to the public. Hence, the most recent docs can, in theory, be found at the top of page. HOWEVER, to date, the DGS RFP (May 17, 2022) has been buried at the very BOTTOM of the sdcspecificplan.com DOCUMENTS page as the last item in Background Documents, which date back to 2015. The RFP has been out for an entire two weeks. Hard to believe that burying it in such an unlikely location could be a simple mistake. Update: As of several days ago, the DGS RFP is now accessible on the sdcspecificplan.com HOME page.
WANT TO KNOW MORE? Listen to THE FATE OF SDC RADIO SHOW: https://s3-us-west-1.amazonaws.com/archives.ksvy.org/KSVY_2022-06-03__16_00_01.mp3
Sonoma Developmental Center Specific Plan
This NOP solicits guidance from responsible, trustee, and federal agencies about the scope and content of environmental information to be included in the EIR related to the agencies’ statutory responsibilities. The agencies will use the County’s EIR when considering their permits or other approvals related to the Project. The NOP also provides an opportunity for other interested parties to provide the County information they may possess or comments on environmental issues they see as being germane to the EIR.
Presented at NSVMAC Meeting, 12/15/21Download PDF
Click on the link below to read a summary of the November 14, 2020 virtual community workshop hosted by Dyett and Bhatia and Sonoma County.
Please donate to the SDC Legal Fund. Every penny of every donation goes directly to paying for the lawsuit. Both SCALE and Sonoma County Tomorrow, Inc. rely entirely on hard working volunteers; no paid staff.