State unveils SDC site assessment

Campus could ?support mix of ?residential, ?commercial and open space, say ?consultants|

The future of the Sonoma Developmental Center could include a mix of commercial offices, education space and much-needed housing opportunities, according to a new study aimed at assessing possible uses for the 860-acre property at Eldridge.

But development should be largely confined to the core area of existing buildings, according to the report, while strongly protecting hundreds of acres of wildlife corridor and other open space.

The highly anticipated “site assessment” of SDC was the topic of a June 23 town hall meeting held at the Hanna Boys Center, presented by consultants Wallace Roberts & Todd and attended Saturday by more than 300 stakeholders – including everyone from local residents to environmental watchdogs to state and elected officials.

The 100-plus-year-old home for developmentally disabled persons was marked for closure by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2015, with a directive to relocate its then-nearly 400 residents to smaller care facilities by the time of SDC’s scheduled closure at the end of 2018.

In 2017, consulting firm Wallace Roberts & Todd won the $2 million contract for architectural and engineering services to prepare “a comprehensive existing conditions study and an opportunities and constraints summary and analysis for SDC.”

Nearly a year in the making, the assessment – officially called “Sonoma Developmental Center Existing Conditions Assessment – a report on the land, water, ecology, economy, buildings and infrastructure” – detailed a review of the existing conditions of the SDC property, and recommended the next phases in its transition.

Joining representatives from WRT in the presentation were state Sen. Mike McGuire, Department of General Services Deputy Director Jason Kenney, Department of Developmental Services Chief Deputy Director John Doyle, Sonoma County 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin.

At its height decades ago, SDC was home to nearly 1,200 residents; when Gov. Brown announced its impending closure three years ago, the center housed about 400. According to DGS officials, all but 84 residents have now been transferred to group homes in surrounding North Bay communities, and the remaining will move out by Dec. 31.

The site assessment team studied such areas as land use, water use, ecological infrastructure, economic feasibility, while considering stakeholder input, neighborhood feedback and the history and culture of the land.

Here are some key findings of the study:

Stakeholder input

The “stakeholders” – local people and organizations consulted through interview – want to ensure protection of the land and water, preservation of the legacy of care, safeguard the community character and historic preservation, contribute to economic diversity and viability of Sonoma Valley and maintain an indiscernible “feeling” of serenity on the property. According to the assessment, locals want to see development only on the current footprint, avoid sensitive riparian corridors, ensure open space remain open and available to the public, and that possible uses be for a center for housing, the arts, recreation, business, among others.

Water use

Water at Eldridge flows from Asbury Creek and Hill Creek and is stored in Suttonfield Lake and Fern Lake reservoirs for water use by SDC. These are currently functioning and protected.

Land use

The WRT team is recommending that the land be described in three zones.

Zone A: Most protected. To protect the critical wildlife corridor, the wild lands from Sonoma Mountain down through the open areas which cross Arnold Drive into County Regional park and Lake Suttonfield should remain fully protected and undisturbed.

Zone B: Less protected. Allowing the center’s cemetery and cultural sites on the property to be embellished and preserved. Other possible uses could mean allowing managed grazing and row crops along the southern border on the east side.

Zone C: Least protected. This includes the core campus of existing buildings clustered around Arnold Drive, and development could be centered here. There is room to include additional buildings here if that is what’s decided.

Ecological planning and green infrastructure

The property is the home of unique biodiversity which includes stands of Redwood, Oak woodlands, mixed evergreen forests, grasslands, riparian woodlands and a wetland meadow on the east edge of the property. It is surrounded by 9,000 acres of protected park land, which encourages the critical wildlife corridor between mountain ranges on either side of the Valley.

History, architecture

The report acknowledged the pre-history of the Pomo, Wappo and Miwok people at the site, and the need to preserve several archeological sites there.

Old photos of the buildings on the SDC property revealed several leaps in construction as illustrated in their architectural styles. The Edwardian main building represents the early 1900s, the administration building next to it represents a mid-century modern style, and some cottages were built in an Arts and Crafts style of the 1940s. The barns and farm buildings were lost in the fires.


Existing infrastructure includes aspects of the Central Utility Plant heating and cooling, the electrical system, indoor lighting, telecommunications, sewer and storm drainage systems. According to the report, much, but not all, of the steam system is obsolete, however the water system is in good condition. The electrical system is in fair condition and could use a moderate upgrade to bring it to code. Indoor lighting needs upgrade to LED standards. Outdoor lighting is in fair condition. The WRT engineer made a very general estimate of around $114 million to bring the entire infrastructure up to code and suggested that decentralized conventional systems may be more appropriate for incremental campus reuse.

Buildings would need to be evaluated for asbestos, lead contamination and seismic condition, and their repair costs are varied according to what would be found.

Economic feasibility

There exists a strong demand for housing in the Valley, less demand for commercial office and education space, according to the report. There is a substantial need for workforce housing. The team concluded that commercial, educational, residential and other uses could be easily supported.

State officials said the release of the site assessment brings to a close “phase 1” of the SDC transition. Phase 2 will be dedicated to examining the alternatives for governance and property use – and determining who does what, who takes the lead and how to pay for it. County and state officials will next determine interim management, land transfer and develop a “master plan.” Phase 2 also includes the “warm shutdown period” from Jan. 1 to June 30, 2019 when the property remains idle. Phase 3 will be the implementation of the Master Plan.

The community is encouraged to visit the State of California Department of General Services website at, click on the link to SDC Community Workshop Presentation. Useful information is also found at the Transform SDC website at The workshop was filmed by SonomaTV and can be found on YouTube.

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