As stakeholders from the Sonoma Valley to Sacramento ponder the future of the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC), a trio of concerns reverberate around the tranquil campus, situated on some 1,000 acres astride Arnold Drive outside Glen Ellen.
Put simply, the three concerns are patients, employees and property.
On Christmas Day, the population had declined to 463, down 53 residents from a year earlier. In 1994, the population was close to 1,200.
Some 200 of the remaining residents are defined as “medical” clients, meaning they have significant to severe medical conditions requiring specialized treatment and care. Another significant percentage are classified as “behavioral” residents, with moderate to severe emotional behavior also requiring specialized treatment.
It currently costs the state close to $400,000 a year to house and care for each SDC resident, an expense no one believes is sustainable.
Following the recommendations of a state task force on the future of residential centers, a significant percentage of SDC residents – if not all of them – will be transitioned out of the facility into smaller, less expensive group homes situated in local communities.
But how many SDC residents can be safely and humanely moved, and where they can be moved to, are questions no one has yet answered.
Serving that declining resident population is a work force of an estimated 1,200 employees, including medical staff, direct care givers, support staff, facilities staff, police and fire personnel, along with specialty technicians, some of whom have pioneered the development of adaptive equipment, including everything from special wheelchairs to custom-made shoes. Some of those services are thought to be unique to SDC and would be hard to replicate, facility advocates say, in the outside world.
And SDC is currently the largest employer in the Sonoma Valley, with a payroll that will be difficult, if not impossible, to replace.
The property itself is a real estate gem, a potential bonanza for a well-financed investor were the land ever to be placed on the open market. It stretches from Highway 12, up the west side of the Valley and spreads up the slope of Sonoma Mountain to the very crest. Some 600 acres of SDC have already been transferred to California State Parks ownership and merged with the adjacent Jack London State Historic Park. The remaining property contains two substantial reservoirs, miles of scenic hiking trails, the site of a summer camp and a large ropes course.
The Task Force’s final report did not recommend declaring SDC, and other developmental center lands, surplus and putting them on the market. Rather, the Task Force concluded that “unused (current and prospective) state DC land should be leveraged to benefit consumers rather than being declared surplus ... the property should be considered for future State-operated facilities and to develop community services, including the Health Resource Center and mixed use communities similar to Harbor Village in Costa Mesa.”
The Task Force added that, “... state land should be retained and the State should enter into public/private partnerships to provide community integrated services, where appropriate ...”
What those integrated services would be and how the public/private partnerships should be created was not directly addressed.