No decisions from SDC meeting

A top-level meeting of legislators and state officials in Sacramento on Tuesday was not intended to produce decisions about the future of the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC), and no actions were taken.

That according to 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin, who attended the meeting, along with state Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, Assemblymember Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, Assemblymember Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, Diana Dooley, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency and Santi Rogers, newly appointed director of the Department of Developmental Services (DDS), which has direct control over SDC.

“There was, essentially, nothing discussed at the meeting,” Gorin said. “Senator Evans asked for the meeting to get the status of the action plan at SDC, but no timelines were discussed, no future conversations were planned about how this would play out. There’s no big story.”

Gorin added that both Yamada and Evans are planning to introduce spot legislation shortly that can be amended with specific action steps when plans for the facility become clearer.

“I’m looking at the final report of the Task Force recommendations, and I want to initiate conversations with the regional centers. I think they will have a great deal of influence” on future SDC decisions, she said.

Regional centers are private, nonprofit corporations that contract with DDS to provide services and support for developmentally disabled clients. There are 21 regional centers in the state, and the two closest to SDC are the North Bay Regional Center in Napa and the Golden Gate Regional Center in San Francisco.

A task force of stakeholders concluded a two-month review of Developmental Center policy and resources, and issued a report in January recommending that most of the 463 residents at SDC be eventually transferred into smaller group home facilities. Such a step would precipitate decisions about disposition of the 1,000-acre property, the fate of the approximately 1,200 employees at the facility and the safety and comfort of residents, many of whom have severe medical and behavioral conditions. Gorin reiterated her intention to explore future scenarios that would preserve some services, and possibly smaller, more compact residential housing on the existing campus.

Well over 200,000 developmentally disabled clients are serviced statewide outside the remaining developmental centers, largely through the resources of regional centers.

But a number of concerned parents and guardians with family members at SDC continue to question the wisdom of simply closing the facility. Kathleen Miller, who is president of the SDC Parent Hospital Association, questions whether outside vendors and private group homes can provide the specialized care and medical attention many SDC residents require.

“Developmental center families are being told not to worry,” Miller wrote in a recent statement. “We are being told that alternative placements can handle our loved ones without problems. They do it every day. But Sonoma families are still very worried.”

Meanwhile, Gorin said, she is participating in discussions between DDS and the county’s Regional Parks with hopes that the lower campus of SDC can be incorporated into the County’s Sonoma Valley Regional Park in Glen Ellen. Further discussions are planned to explore transferring the upper acreage, which covers the flank of Sonoma Mountain, to Jack London State Historical Park.