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Stakeholders slam SDC closure plan

A relatively spare and subdued audience listened to the Department of Developmental Services introduce its Sept. 21 testimonial session on the draft plan for Sonoma Developmental Center closure, just a few days after DDS unveiled a plan most local stakeholders regarded as inadequate at best.

Compared to earlier testimonial sessions sponsored by the DDS, as part of its fact-finding preparation for the closure plan to be submitted to the legislature on Oct. 1, attendance on Monday was down, depressed somewhat by the contents of the draft report.

That report largely threw cold water on hopes for an inventive “transformation” of SDC away from the path followed by Lanterman Developmental Center and similar closure processes, essentially saying their hands were tied by federal requirements that prohibit “congregate living” for developmentally disabled individuals.

The Sept. 21 session, held at the comfortable Renaissance Lodge at Sonoma, opened at 9 a.m. and was chaired by Aleana Carreon, the new interim executive director of the Sonoma Developmental Center. First District Supervisor Susan Gorin gave opening remarks, voicing her disappointment in the contents of the draft plan – and in what it lacked.

“I am profoundly disappointed that the draft plan seems to be the same approach that they have used in closing down other developmental centers,” said Gorin, “even though we acknowledge the uniqueness of the site, its history, and the medical fragility of the residents.”

Two state legislators, state Sen. Mike McGuire and Assemblymember Bill Dodd, offered a written response to the draft plan following Monday’s meeting, saying they were “incredibly disappointed” with the draft plan.

“The report is inadequate and lacks the specific details that we as a community expected, and quite frankly, were led to believe would be delivered,” their statement continued.

Another of Gorin’s colleagues on the SDC Coalition, John McCaull of the Sonoma Land Trust, also expressed disappointment in the draft presented last week. “The Draft Plan stops far short of our vision,” he said in a statement. “We appreciate the State’s recognition that they do not intend to sell or transfer SDC as surplus property because of its natural resources and historical importance, but we need to start planning for the future now… and not waiting until all the residents have been moved to begin developing a reuse strategy.”

Many of the morning’s speakers said the 80-page report, released late in the day Sept. 15, hid behind double-speak to mask their inability to provide a safe, secure and responsible future for the 400 or so residents current at the Eldridge facility. One speaker noted, “This is a hearing room – but do the powers that be really listen?”

Brien Ferrell, whose sister Susan has been at SDC for decades, went so far as to call it a “sham process” as he denounced the DDS’s public input efforts, to loud and sustained applause.

“DDS claims the right to tear down Susan’s safety net,” he said angrily. “As Susan’s advocate I object to all of the aspects of the DDS report.”

Kathleen Miller, president of the SDC Parent Hospital Association, called for a moratorium on transfers from the Developmental Center until there is “conclusive evidence that equal or better services are available” outside SDC.

Her lengthy statement included numerous calls for services that were not included in the draft plan, including medical, equipment and housing.

As if in response, County Board of Education member Gina Cuclis of Boyes Hot Springs said, “There is little evidence that DDS is capable of providing the kind of services (the residents) need for the next three years.”

“You can not ignore us,” said Ferrell, “and we will not allow it.”

Following the morning session, Gorin emphasized that she would continue working with the county and DDS on a “transformation” process that would including continuing services and housing on the 900-plus acre site of the Sonoma Developmental Center.

But the momentum of bureaucracy, and the realities of limited federal funding for facilities like SDC into the future, do not bode well for any transformation except inevitable closure.

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