-- Margaret J. Wheatley; photo by Jim Codington
When the state of California dismantled the community that had evolved over 130 years in Eldridge, known in the end as the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC), another, larger community was born. People from Glen Ellen, the center itself, and beyond, worried that the natural beauty and remarkable legacy of the 945-acre property at the foot of Sonoma Mountain would be lost if it were simply sold to the highest bidder. The vision was clear: To transform the SDC while also making sure that transformation was scaled to harmonize with the property’s rural setting, preserving its wildlands, supporting its wildlife, and benefiting the people who live in and around it.
Acknowledging local passion for the site, instead of selling outright the state entered into an agreement with Sonoma County to develop a much-lauded, first-of-its-kind , "community-driven" Specific Plan for the 180-acre core campus.
Community stakeholders worked in good faith with County planners and consultants to find balance between conflicting priorities, such as providing affordable housing on the campus and ensuring its “economic feasibility.” Stakeholders spoke their truth; the County’s planners and leadership ignored them. Instead of honoring the community vision, on Dec. 16, 2022, Sonoma County’s Board of Supervisors certified a Specific Plan and Environmental Impact Report allowing development of at least 750 homes (up to 1,000 when factoring in accessory dwelling units), more than 400,000 square feet of commercial space, and a 120-room hotel.
The scale of what’s planned for the SDC flies in the face of common-sense. The detrimental environmental impacts of such intensive development affect the wildlife corridor, the ability to evacuate from wildfire, traffic, carbon emissions, destruction of historic resources, water, and surrounding open space, and have not been fairly explained. Concerns about destruction of natural values and protection of public safety and community identity must be considered.
We can do better. SCALE’s partners believe redevelopment of the SDC can balance human needs with environmental protections for the natural resources so critical to universal well-being. SCALE is dedicated to helping figure out how.
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