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Officials lay out next steps in closure of Sonoma Developmental Center

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When the Sonoma Developmental Center in Eldridge closes its doors at the end of the year, Sonoma Valley will be transformed forever.

Local elected representatives came to Sonoma last Thursday as part of an SDC townhall to continue the community conversation about the transition toward closure of the century-old institution. Joining 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin at the May 10 meeting at Altimira Middle School were state Sen. Mike McGuire, state Sen. Bill Dodd, Assemblywoman Cecelia Aguiar-Curry, state Director of the Department of Developmental Services Nancy Bargmann, Director of the Department of General Services Daniel Kim and Deputy Director Jason Kenney.

According to SDC officials, the benchmark events throughout this year and beyond will be as follows:

• First, homes in the community will be found for the remaining 136 residents.

• In late June, the results of consulting firm Wallace, Roberts & Todd’s site-assessment report will be presented at a community meeting. It will present findings on the condition of the buildings, the below-ground infrastructure and the state of surrounding issues like traffic and the open space.

• On Jan. 1, 2019, the property will go into a “warm shutdown” period where budgeted money will be used to maintain the property while it’s idle. This maintains not only lights and electricity and fire services, but cameras, security, and fences to prevent vandalism. The warm shutdown also provides time for legislators and the Valley community to decide on the next stage for the SDC site, generally called the Master Plan.

• Details of the Master Plan have yet to be decided. Surplus state land is commonly sold to the highest bidder, with those funds go into the state General Fund. At the townhall, however, the state officials stressed their committment to taking a “holistic approach” and lay a path toward SDC’s future via community consensus. General Services Director Kim emphasized that a community-driven conversion is unusual and unorthodox but that, “this is not about maximizing revenue for the state.”

Many Glen Ellen residents have favored the idea of creating an “Eldridge Trust” with several Glen Ellen and other Valley voices on its board of directors. Modeled after the Presidio Trust, it would manage the governance of the property and oversee the appropriate uses of the lands, buildings and properties. It would be through the Eldridge Trust that decisions about “what goes in there” would be considered – ideas that have been bandied include a home for veterans, a Sonoma State satellite campus, an equine center, a cannabis farm, open space, a Bouverie Preserve extension, among others.

Kathleen Miller, president of the Parents Hospital Association, stressed the importance of sensitive placement of the residents into new homes. Commenting on the sense of loss over her son having to leave the campus, she expressed hope that the history and ambiance of the developmental center will be captured in a documentary currently being filmed about SDC. Miller highlighted the SDC cemetery as a site warranting special protection in order to honor residents and employees from over the years.

Nancy Bargmann, of Developmental Services, has been overseeing the transition of SDC clients since 2015. More than 400 residents have been placed, some who have lived in Eldridge for 70 years. DDS has been locating and renovating specialized homes in many communities. Currently about 16 homes are completing renovation, with 66 ex-SDC staff now working in those homes. (Five former SDC staffers have even started their own care-giving business.)

The last home will be licensed in July, and oversight of the specialized homes will be through the state Regional Centers. Medical, dental, orthotic, physical therapy, and psychiatric needs will be met by the Santa Rosa Community Health Center.

The WRT Site Assessment Report is expected to be presented at a public meeting in late June.