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Upcoming SDC meetings: public, private

If the intent of the 'developmental center' model was to separate the lives of the developmentally disabled from the eye of the general public – it didn't work. At least not when it has come to news of inspections, treatment violations, funding withdrawals or plans for speedy closure.

Just last week the Sonoma County District Attorney publicized the guilty plea in a sex-abuse case involving an Sonoma Developmental Center caretaker and a patient.

On top of that, the state of California this spring set a goal of the end of 2018 for the closure of the 120-year-old hospital, triggering a series of public and private meetings to hash out the timeline, the stages, and the very reasons for closing SDC.

Last week several members of the SDC Coalition met privately with representatives from the state's Department of Developmental Services to discuss the fate of the 1600-acre property currently occupied by the developmental center, in a meeting described as 'promising' by coalition member John McCaull of the Sonoma Land Trust.

This week and next, state Senator Mike McGuire has called several meetings with stakeholders in the SDC closure process – as well as meetings for members of the public, including an 'interactive Town Hall' in Sonoma on Aug. 20.

McCaull, along with fellow Coalition members Supervisor Susan Gorin and Parent Hospital Association President Kathleen Miller ( as well as staff from the Sonoma County Deptartment of Health Services, and consultants from the Center for Collaborative Policy) met on Friday, Aug. 7, with Department of Developmental Services Director Santi Rogers, SDC Executive Director Karen Furia, and several staff from DDS.

'It was very clear that they're under a significant amount of scrutiny over the settlement agreement that they're under now,' confirmed McCaull. 'That's their focus right now.'

Aside from the fate of the 400 or so residents of SDC – and the employees who support them – the destiny of the coveted Sonoma Valley property proved to be a major concern at such public meetings as the Transform SDC sessions held in early May at the Vintage House.

McCaull said it was a 'tactical decision' of the Coalition to delay discussion of the land until the negotiation between the DDS and the federal government over continued funding was resolved. That resolution came July 1; now the conversation with the Department of General Services – which officially 'owns' the property – can begin.

'I think we're at that point now that we can look at it as two parallel conversations, said McCaull. 'We have to collectively make the best choices for the people that live there, but we can't just wait to address the land issues, because the people and the land are intimately connected.'

McCaull reiterated that Sonoma is unique among present and former developmental centers in the extent and quality of its property. He even quoted DDS Director Rogers to the effect, saying that 'there is no other developmental center even approaching the natural resources potential of this property.'

Added McCaull, Land Acquisition Project Manager for the Land Trust, 'I feel it was a very positive meeting, and the beginning of a chance for us to have a dialog. I feel good for the first time in a long time!'

On Thursday of this week, Aug. 13, McGuire has scheduled a county-wide Town Hall to be held in Santa Rosa at the Board of Supervisors chambers, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The public is invited to hear from McGuire and other community leaders in a public forum on what's happening in the county and state.

McGuire, elected to the state Senate in November 2014, is the chairman of the senate's Human Services Committee, which has oversight of the state's Developmental and Regional Centers. In that role, he strongly opposed a Republican bill earlier this year to close SDC, and when the Governor's Office set the 2018 deadline in May he swiftly weighed in to critique the accelerated timeline.

But prior to the Aug. 13 public Town Hall, McGuire has set up a pair of private meetings in Sonoma specifically to discuss the SDC 'transformation' plan with key stakeholders. Both of these will be held on the SDC campus in Eldridge, including a morning session at 10 a.m. with representatives from the 1200 employees of SDC; and a 1:30 p.m. meeting with family members.

'As chair of that committee I'm working hand-in-hand with the department and the administration to ensure that we put the needs of the residents first, and we set aside the arbitrary deadlines that the feds and the state continue to discuss,' McGuire recently told the Index-Tribune. 'The number one goal has to be what is best for the residents of the SDC.'

The Aug. 13 meetings are part of this required inclusion of workers and families, and of 'ensuring that everyone is hearing everything at the same time relating to closure,' said the legislator.

A week later, on Aug. 20, McGuire and other lawmakers will hold a second area Town Hall meeting, this one in Sonoma on the specific topic of the SDC transition. Also co-hosting at what is described as an 'interactive Town Hall' will be Congressman Mike Thompson, Assemblyman Bill Dodd, and Supervisor Susan Gorin.

Representatives from the State Department of Developmental Services will also be on hand to respond to questions and concerns from neighbors, parents and other community members about the fate of the 121-year old developmental center.

The Thursday, Aug. 20 Town Hall will take place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., at Altamira Middle School in the Multipurpose Room, 17805 Arnold Drive, Sonoma. It will be open to the public.

The DDS is still taking public comment through a variety of mechanisms, and urges people with an interest in or concerns about the closure of SDC to submit them before the filing deadline of Sept. 1. Comment links plus news, updates and more information can be found on the DDS's website at http://www.dds.ca.gov/SonomaNews.

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