Editorial: Sonoma’s winter of discontent
The so-called “soft closing” of the Sonoma Developmental Center occurred Dec. 31 with such little fanfare that one could almost hear the clicking of the padlocks. But make no mistake, after 117 years, thousands of clients’ difficult lives made easier – and, rarely but still sadly, some made more harrowing through neglect and malfeasance – plus many more thousands of Valley residents raising their families through employment furnished at Eldridge, the demise of SDC is not merely the end of a single institution, it’s the end of a way of living. For better or worse – though most would say for the better – this type of institutional existence for disabled people exemplified by estates such as Eldridge are vanishing throughout the country. Their archaic buildings slated for either coming demolition, or ghost tours.
The next chapter for Eldridge is still pending. But, have no doubt, the preservation of 1,600 acres of pristine open space in the middle of one of the most pricey real estate regions in America isn’t going to come without a cost to whomever assumes the mantle of Eldridge’s future. Whatever that future turns out to be.
The sudden and unexpected winter closing of the Sonoma Cheese Factory has elicited all types of theories as to why an iconic Plaza business would make such an unprecedented move when only months prior it had been proposing a multi-million-dollar expansion into an upscale multi-vendor marketplace. The project – which envisions two restaurants, indoor and outdoor seating amid 25,000 square feet of indoor commercial space – was approved last April by the Sonoma Planning Commission, but the approval was subsequently appealed to the City Council by owners of neighboring buildings who fear the project is too big and bold to support the traffic, parking and everything else that comes with bustling commerce.
Among the theories about the timing of the closure, the most mundane is that it is what it is: a frugal business decision to cut losses during Sonoma’s slow season which still hasn’t recovered from the aura of the 2017 fires. The most audacious, on the other hand, is that it’s an attempt to force the city’s hand in deciding between an empty Sonoma landmark and a supposedly thriving, tourist-driven marketplace.
Here’s a third theory: An already discouraged development team, wary of the difficulty in advancing business development in Sonoma, is reconsidering its commitment to the project. Perhaps they made note that one Sonoma resident at a Planning Commission meeting last April 12, said that the proposed project would attract so many visitors, it would “choke parking to the point it’s going to make the Plaza completely unlivable.”
That resident was Logan Harvey. And he was just elected to the Sonoma City Council.
Lastly, a note on the imbroglio between the Sonoma Alliance Church and its Watmaugh Road neighbors over the church’s benevolent winter sheltering of homeless overflow clients from the Sonoma Overnight Support “Haven” shelter on First Street West.
As reported in Janis Mara’s story last month (“Neighbors Vow to Shut Down Homeless Shelter,” Dec. 21), some residents near the Sonoma Alliance Church have pledged to sue the fundamentalist congregation for “tens of millions of dollars,” as ostensible litigant Rick Deringer told the Index-Tribune, because he and others fear, without direct evidence they admit, the homeless could pose a danger to the neighborhood. They correctly point out that the church is not “zoned” for housing homeless. However, they insist admittance to the shelter should be dependent upon passing drug screenings – but that’s a clear violation of county policy.