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Sonoma Developmental Center closure plan goes to legislature

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After just three months of an accelerated public input period regarding the planned closure of the Sonoma Developmental Center, the Department of Developmental Services submitted its required Plan for Closure to the California State Legislature on Oct. 1.

As expected from the earlier draft closure plan released two scant weeks earlier, on Sept. 15, the final plan hews closely to the department’s model of the Lanterman closure in 2014, and seems to give scant weight to the hours of public testimony from guardians and parents of SDC residents, current and past employees, the Transform SDC coalition and other stakeholders.

“I think it is a continuation towards a fast track to closure,” said Kathleen Miller of the SDC Parent Hospital Association. “Our loved ones appear expendable.”

Following the draft report’s issue, DDS did hold a second public testimony session, on Sept. 21 in Sonoma. Some of the comments and suggestions from that session were added to the final report, according to a bullet-point “summary of changes” issued by the department with its final report. Forty-seven people testified at that meeting, and another 42 submitted comments by email or online.

The report characterized those additional comments as “reflecting” earlier public comment on the issues surrounding the facility’s closure. These include “the need for services to be established at SDC in perpetuity, further concerns that the proposed closure timeline is too short, requests that the plan needs to include safety-net services and a better description of what happens if individuals ‘fail’ in the community, [and] requests that the Department address the emotional and spiritual needs of individuals in transition.”

Advocates for building homes and services on the present Eldridge site to “serve the individuals at SDC, as well as those in the community that may have parallel needs,” were also recognized.

Also added to the draft plan were impact statements from two of the state’s regional centers most involved in the current resident population at SDC, Golden Gate and Alta California regional centers. Other regional centers that have “clients” in residence at SDC include North Bay, East Bay, San Andreas and Far Northern regional centers.

Most if not all of the current SDC population – numbering 391 individuals as of Sept. 30 – are officially served by those regional centers, but in residence at SDC. While nearly all of the regional centers expressed overt support for the plan to close SDC, several of them specifically pointed out the need for adequate funding from the Legislature to continue, or begin, providing services for their clients.

“Essential to the regional center’s ability to successfully support this policy will be adequate dollars for the regional center to provide assessment, person-centered planning, service coordination, clinical support, resource development and quality management,” read the statement from the Golden Gate Regional Center, for example.

The report was delivered by hard copy and digital email on Thursday, Oct. 1 to the Legislature, including committee consultants, as required by the Governor’s 2015-2016 budget and a trailer bill. The next response from the Legislature may not come until next year, though Sen. Mike McGuire will be convening a hearing of the Senate Human Services Committee, which he chairs, to review the closure plan before the end of the year.

Noting that the final draft plan reflected “mostly technical and organizational changes to the draft plan that was submitted several weeks ago,” 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin said she was in the process of evaluating the county’s “very specific interest in protecting and preserving the undeveloped land, and transferring that land into the Sonoma county regional parks, and state parks for that matter.”

The reuse of the nearly 1,000 acres where the SDC currently sits is one of the key concerns, after the health and continued care for the residents. But the DDS has shied away from addressing the property’s future disposal, saying that the issue is one for General Services, and not their department.

“We will be working with the SDC Coalition – the Sonoma Land Trust, the Parent Hospital Association and the Sonoma Ecology Center – on an approach to planning the reuse of the site,” said Gorin.

The final plan does acknowledge that the proposed moratorium on placements from SDC into community facilities is a “significant theme of stakeholder feedback,” but the department’s rebuttal to that concern is once again that such a moratorium is “unnecessary and contrary to law.”

“A moratorium would prevent placement out of SDC of individuals for whom appropriate community services and supports have been identified and are available,” reads the report. “Moreover, a moratorium on placements from SDC would violate residents’ rights not only under the Lanterman Act but also under federal law, including the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

“We are going to be advocating for continuing services and housing on the site as the closure plan continues to be implemented,” said Gorin firmly.

Similarly, concerns about the fate of the current 1,300 employees at SDC are acknowledged, but not really solved. “It is unclear as to what specific economic effects the closure will have at this time, although stakeholders note the economic impact could be significant,” according to the report.

The Final Plan for the Closure of the Sonoma Developmental Center is available online at the DDS website, www.dds.ca.gov/Sonomanews, along with public hearing records and other resources and links.