The Sonoma Developmental Center, located in the unincorporated area of Sonoma County, CA known as Eldridge, closed its doors at the end of 2018. Its roughly 900 acres are comprised of redwood forests, oak woodlands, grasslands, mixed evergreen forests, riparian woodlands, and wetlands, including a 180-acre campus with 140+ buildings in various conditions. Scores of Sonoma Valley residents enjoy recreating there on a daily basis, and the property as a whole serves as a pinch point in the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor, allowing wildlife to move between Sonoma Mountain and the Mayacamas range, and between coastal and interior areas. The site is surrounded by about 12,000 acres of protected lands, including State and County parks, private property with permanent conservation easements, and private preserves.
On April 5, 2019, the State of California entered into an agreement with Sonoma County to embark on a three-year community-driven transition process. The Transition Proposal "provides time for policymakers and the community to begin the land use planning process to determine appropriate future land uses and development potential for the SDC site, which is currently very limited by the existing County General Plan and zoning of the property only for public uses."
The April 5, 2019 agreement between the State of California and Sonoma County outlines a tentative plan to preserve the SDC's open space and woodlands as public parkland and wildlife habitat. This preservation of open space could include a future collaboration with state parks, regional parks, or a combination. We want to ensure that public access will continue through the coming years and urge the community to be mindful when using the property. The community should partner with other groups to create a volunteer plan to help the state maintain public access and patrol the lands.
As for redevelopment of the SDC core campus, the community must be closely integrated into the land use planning process throughout the three years it will take to successfully complete the Specific Plan. Click on the link below to find out more.
While permanent protection of the SDC’s open space acreage is generally assumed to be a given, the actual legislation from the April 19, 2019 Budget Amendment reads:
The department recognizes the property’s exceptional open space, natural resources, and wildlife habitat. The disposition of the property or property interests shall provide for the permanent protection of the open space and natural resources as a public resource to the greatest extent feasible and shall be upon terms and conditions the director deems to be in the best interest of the state. (Section 2, 1.2 (c))
Send a message to Sonoma County Supervisors showing your support for permanent preservation of SDC's invaluable open space: email@example.com
Published by the Institute for Local Government, Understanding the Basics of Land Use and Planning: Glossary of Land Use and Planning Terms defines "compatibility" as: The characteristics of different uses or activities that permit them to be located near each other in harmony and without conflict. The designation of permitted and conditionally permitted uses in a zoning district is intended to achieve compatibility. Some elements affecting compatibility include intensity of occupancy as measured by dwelling units per acre; pedestrian or vehicular traffic generated; volume of goods handled; and environmental effects like noise, vibration, glare, air pollution, or radiation.
Land use compatibility is at the core of sound land use planning and is reflected in General Plans and Specific Plans. Land use compatibility is an important issue because every land use, whether it is agricultural, residential, commercial, or industrial has impacts, be they good or bad. Consequently, land use compatibility should be addressed where high density development is proposed in designated rural areas and/or adjacent to open space; i.e., the SDC planning site. Yet, this sound principle of good land use planning is entirely absent from the Draft Vision Statement and Guiding Principles. To outright ignore land use compatibility is to ignore the General Plan, existing land uses, the importance of protecting wildlife habitat from fragmentation, and the quality of life of residents in the community.
As the Specific Plan process enters the Alternatives phase, we must ask ourselves: HOW MANY NEW HOUSING UNITS CAN THE PLANNING SITE ACCOMODATE AND STILL BE COMPATIBLE WITH SURROUNDING OPEN SPACE, THE SONOMA VALLEY WILDLIFE CORRIDOR, AND GLEN ELLEN?
The Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor Project: Management and Monitoring Strategy, a report published by the Sonoma Land Trust (2014) states: Wildlife corridors are patches or strips of habitat that allow wildlife to safely move between larger blocks of habitat. These corridors or linkages enable animals to escape predators, find a mate, better habitat, food and water, or habitat essential for a specific life stage. Dispersal is essential for maintaining genetic diversity in wildlife populations and for adaptation to shifts in temperature, vegetation, and water availability due to a changing climate. Corridors can also provide live-in habitat for small to medium size animals.
The SDC planning site sits in the middle of the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor. Overdevelopment of this site and/or incompatible land uses could negatively impact the ability of wildlife to safely move between larger blocks of habitat. Planners and decision-makers must accept the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor for what it is - a constraint on development. To mitigate negative impacts on the wildlife corridor, only compatible land uses should be considered when redeveloping the core campus, and wherever possible, efforts should be made to shrink the boundaries of the planning site, especially along the northern edges and the Sonoma Creek riparian corridor.
To learn more about the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor, click on this button.
Sonoma County's Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District's mission statement reads: The Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District permanently protects the diverse agricultural, natural resource, and scenic open space lands of Sonoma County for future generations.
On Jan. 26, 2021, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted the Ag + Open Space Vital Lands Initiative. The universal objectives of this initiative are to:
- Protect areas with multiple conservation features.
- Protect properties that increase connectivity between protected areas.
- Protect areas most threatened with development or conversion.
- Protect areas important for climate change and extreme event resiliency and adaptation, including projects that promote carbon sequestration and avoided emissions.
- Protect areas that achieve the open space goals outlined in the Sonoma County General Plan.
- Protect a variety of lands that ensure an equitable distribution of benefits to our diverse communities.
According to criteria outlined in the 121-page Vital Lands Initiative, permanent protection of SDC's open space should be a top priority. Furthermore, the initiative underscores the many reasons why land use compatibility must be strictly adhered to when redeveloping the SDC core campus.
Check out this great video on the SDC and the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor
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