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Council supports keeping SDC open

By Pam Gibson/Special to the Index-Tribune

A resolution supporting Sonoma Developmental Center was passed unanimously by the Sonoma City Council Wednesday.

The resolution asks the State Task Force on Developmental Centers to focus on the critical patient care supplied by SDC and to lift the current ban on new admittances.

City Manager Carol Giovanatto told the council the center faces an uncertain future. “The Task Force is developing a master plan which is due in November,” she said. “SDC is important to Sonoma’s economy through the jobs it provides and we are asking the state to keep it open.”

Kathleen Miller, president of Family and Friends of SDC, whose son is a resident there, said the center is a critical employer and has been a good neighbor. “Our family members have been accepted in the community,” she added.

Sharon Church, who lives near the facility, said to lose it would be a tragedy. “We should judge our society by how well we take care of those less fortunate,” she said.

The resolution goes on to say that the state of California should view SDC as an asset that should “continue to serve people with developmental disabilities including residents and nonresidents.” It went on to encourage the state to explore other ways to improve the center’s financial viability, and offered some examples.

A few of the speakers addressing the council added to that, saying it would be interesting to partner with local colleges, especially those offering classwork in various health-related fields. Jack Wagner, who lives in nearby Glen Ellen, said he is exploring this idea with Santa Rosa Junior College.

Gina Cuclis, a member of the Sonoma County Board of Education, thanked the council for putting the resolution on the agenda. “We need a uniform voice,” she said, adding that a rally will be taking place on the Plaza on Saturday, Sept. 14, from noon to 1 p.m. to “show our solidarity.”

The Sonoma Developmental Center opened in 1891 and has more than 1,000 acres of hills, trees, lakes, and buildings.

The task force determining its future is charged with developing a master plan that addresses the following:

• The service needs of all developmental center residents.

• The fiscal and budget implications of the declining population.

• The aging infrastructure, staffing and resource constraints.

• The availability of community resources to meet the specialized needs of residents now living in the developmental centers.

• A timeline for future closures and the statutory and regulatory changes that may be needed to ensure the delivery of cost-effective, integrated, quality services for the center’s special population.

Last year, state legislation was adopted that placed a moratorium on new admissions to all developmental centers, required all residents to be assessed to determine if community services are available to meet their needs and prioritized resources to reduce state and local institutionalization.

As a result of the moratorium, the resident population at SDC has been steadily dropping.

The Department of Developmental Services listed the population at the end of June as 485. In 1994, it was close to 1,200.