SDC wildlands to benefit from Todd bequest

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A Sonoma Valley family whose roots go back to the mid-1850s continues to have an impact on Sonoma Valley through their 2009 bequest to the Community Foundation.

The Sonoma Land Trust announced Monday they have received a $700,000 grant from Community Foundation Sonoma County, and their regional affiliate the Sonoma Valley Fund, to protect more than 700 acres of open space, trails and natural resources at the site of the former Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC).

The grant comes from the Hazel and Roland Todd gift, estimated in 2009 to be valued at about $8.5 million, made to help fund projects benefiting health, human services and open space protection, primarily in the Sonoma Valley.

“The Todds’ Sonoma County roots ran incredibly deep,” said Elizabeth Brown, president and CEO of Community Foundation Sonoma County, noting that Roland Todd’s family had been in Kenwood since 1852, and the Valley was a unique and special place for both Roland and Hazel.

Roland Todd was a retired diesel engine distributor; he and his wife had no children of their own, and wanted to leave their money to benefit the community. While they were still alive they donated to help replace aging fire equipment for Kenwood, Schell-Vista and Glen Ellen fire departments; they also made substantial donations to FISH (Friends in Sonoma Helping).

Their legacy bequest of $8.5 million was the second-largest bequest the Community Foundation has ever received, according to the foundation’s “30 Years of giving” report.

“We are so honored to continue to share their story through our grantmaking in partnership with the Sonoma Valley Fund, and we hope that the community will keep their memories alive and share in our gratitude when they visit this beautiful open space,” said Brown.

Funding from the Community Foundation will be used as a match for land acquisition and management costs as part of a coordinated, multi-agency effort to connect SDC’s remarkable open space with 9,000 acres of adjacent parks and protected lands.

According to John McCaull, land acquisition program manager for Sonoma Land Trust, “The legacy of protecting SDC’s open space land as a future park and wildlife corridor also honors its legacy of care for people with developmental disabilities. The Todds wanted their bequest to support priorities that linked human health and environmental protection, and that is what SDC has brought to Sonoma County for over 127 years.”

In December 2018, the State of California closed SDC as a residential hospital for people with developmental disabilities. The 200-acre developed campus along Arnold Drive is nestled in the middle of a much larger — and wilder — 900-plus-acre landscape that stretches from the slopes of Sonoma Mountain to the Valley floor.

A $43 million agreement between the state and county — which was approved by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on April 5 and included in the State’s FY 2019−2020 budget — funds basic upkeep of the campus and infrastructure for three years and provides $3.5 million to Sonoma County to create a specific plan for SDC.

While the County administers this planning and community engagement process over the next three years, there is a parallel effort led by state and county park agencies to prepare for expanding Jack London State Historic Park and Sonoma Valley Regional Park to include SDC’s open space lands.

Funds from the Community Foundation grant will be used for the purchase of a conservation easement over portions of the SDC property linking the two parks, and to fund the rehabilitation, restoration and improvement of the property’s trails.

Sonoma Land Trust is working in partnership with the members of the SDC Coalition Lands Committee, including Sonoma County Regional Parks, Sonoma County Ag + Open Space, Sonoma Ecology Center, Jack London Park Partners and Sonoma Mountain Preservation.

All parties are working to make the transfer happen concurrently with the adoption of the County’s specific plan in late 2021.

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