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BJ Blanchard: Notes from Glen Ellen, April 20

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To keep informed, visit the Sonoma Land Trust’s Transform SDC website. The Glen Ellen Forum is online at glenellenca.org

Spirits ran high Monday evening at a meeting at Dunbar Elementary School as the Glen Ellen community launched into action. The meeting, sponsored by the Glen Ellen Forum, attracted several hundred Glen Ellen residents wanting a voice in the transition of the Sonoma Development Center. Attended by 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin and representatives from state Sen. Mike Maguire and Congressman Mike Thompson’s offices, the meeting was informative and productive.

Presenters included Alice Horowitz, Tracy Salcedo and Steven Lee of the Glen Ellen Forum, Richard Dale of the Sonoma Ecology Center, John McCaull of the Sonoma Land Trust, and Jim Shere of the Glen Ellen Historical Society. The SDC Parents group participated as well. The meeting was moderated by Ellie Insley.

Richard Dale of the Ecology Center stressed that the Eldridge property’s 837 acres are rich in biodiversity, with 129 species of birds, many amphibians, reptiles, water resources with abundant groundwater recharge, vast grasslands, oak woodlands and a diverse ecosystem stretching from the Valley floor up the flanks of Sonoma Mountain. Several endangered species live on the property including salamander, owl, shrimp, salmon and mountain lion. Importantly, a wildlife corridor has developed enabling wild creatures to roam from mountain range to mountain range avoiding the dangerous human highways. The “phenomenal vistas” and surrounding mountains are used and treasured by local residents.

Jim Shere of the Glen Ellen Historical Society described the rich human history on the site starting with the Pomo and Coast Miwok communities that hunted here and fished the creeks. He emphasized that SDC, built in 1891 for thousands of people with profound medical disabilities, was a self-contained community with its own steam-heating plant, vegetable gardens, animal farm, water source and more.

Employment here has, over the years, attracted non-conformists and artists to the area. A museum in the Superintendent’s Quarters could be re-vitalized and a pastoral park could center around the tiny cemetery. He suggested that “we form here a future that remembers its past.”

The question of governance – how to make decisions about the property and who should make them – must be tackled at the outset. Attendees felt that a “trust,” modeled after the San Francisco Presidio Trust, would best manage the property in the public interest, and should be formed to keep the decision making in the local area. The Eldridge Trust would be a nonprofit NGO, have nine members with one paid executive, receive seed money from the state which would decrease over the years. The Trust would assist in selecting at least one economic driver that can sustain the expenses of the property. Although the state has not said how much money is necessary, it is clear there must be a viable financial plan in place.

Goals and guiding principles for the Eldridge redevelopment were generally agreed upon by the group.

Protect existing open space and wildlife corridors.

Foster development and uses that benefit the Glen Ellen community.

Promote development of a viable economic engine on the property.

Preserve the site’s historic character and buildings.

Preserve the site’s healthcare legacy.

Preserve the semirural character of the area around Glen Ellen.

Ensure Glen Ellen is included in decision making.

Here’s what is confirmed. SDC will close at the end of December 2018. The remaining 120 residents will move to specialized homes in the community. The State of California currently has no plans for the property and does not want to sell it. They are asking for a solution from the community. If a solution is not underway by January 2019, the facility will go into an expensive “warm shut down” period with the property idle. A site assessment has been completed by Wallace Roberts & Todd (WRT), describing the condition of the infrastructure, value of the structures, traffic patterns, electrical and plumbing status, and land value. Their findings are scheduled to be made public in May or June.

To keep informed, visit the Sonoma Land Trust’s Transform SDC website. The Glen Ellen Forum is online at glenellenca.org

Many ideas for what could go into the area will be on the table. They include but are not limited to: Sonoma State satellite campus or agricultural/viticulture extension, office space, youth hostel, museum, equestrian center, local businesses, low-cost housing units, hiking trails, veterans home. At least one “anchor” business will be necessary to help defray expenses.

Where does Glen Ellen go from here? Form an Eldridge Trust. The future is at hand. Stay tuned.