Glen Ellen, Calif.
January 20, 2023
Calling it “a short-sighted plan with serious environmental consequences,” two community advocacy organizations have filed suit requesting Sonoma County revise the environmental impact report (EIR) for the SDC Specific Plan and scale back proposed redevelopment of the former Sonoma Developmental Center campus.
The goal of the lawsuit is to require the county to revise the EIR to address critical environmental issues and provide accurate analyses for appropriate mitigations. The current EIR is incomplete and deeply flawed, according to the plaintiffs.
The advocacy coalitions, Sonoma County Tomorrow, Inc. and Sonoma Community Advocates for a Liveable Environment (SCALE), contend the EIR for redevelopment of the 180-acre SDC campus violates the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) on a number of issues. The plan, which allows construction of up to 1,000 homes, 400,000 square feet of commercial space, and a resort hotel in the middle of rural Sonoma Valley, must be scaled back to bring it into compliance with environmental law.
“This intensity of development is completely out of scale with the rural community that surrounds the site and, because of the high wildfire risk, could endanger the lives of thousands of current and future residents of Sonoma Valley,” said SCALE spokesperson Tracy Salcedo. Portions of the SDC campus, as well as the surrounding village of Glen Ellen, were devastated by the Nuns Fire in 2017, when residents struggled to navigate backed-up one-lane roads trying to evacuate.
The EIR’s wildfire evacuation analysis found that adding 2,400 residents and about l,000 workers on the site would have virtually no impact on evacuation travel time. “This analysis defies the real-world experience of Sonoma Valley residents in both 2017 and in the 2020 Glass Fire,” Salcedo said.
The EIR also fails to adequately analyze biological impacts of the redevelopment, including impacts on the critical Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor, a pinch-point running through the property that supports the movement of a variety of species within the Sonoma Valley and as far as Marin County’s coastal region and Berryessa Snow Mountain National Wildlife Monument. Excessive development puts the wildlife corridor and the surrounding 750 acres of open space at risk, diminishing the ability of plants and animal species to adapt to climate change.
The SDC Specific Plan also recommends removal of historic structures and landscaping. Instead, the plaintiffs say adaptive reuse of historic buildings, where feasible and as required by state law, would reduce resource and material consumption, put less waste in landfills, and consume less energy than demolishing buildings and constructing new ones.
While advocates support construction of affordable homes on the site, they stress it should be at a reduced density that doesn’t transform the rural site into a small city. “If Sonoma County continues on this misguided path to create new urban centers in its unincorporated areas, in the wildland-urban interface and on agricultural lands, both lives and communities will be at risk,” Salcedo said.
Because the county’s EIR doesn’t adequately study or mitigate the environmental impacts of such high-density development based on real-world conditions, “holding the county responsible for doing the job right is imperative,” Salcedo said. “We, as citizens and taxpayers, deserve nothing less. The property, as critical as it is to our health and well-being, deserves nothing less.”
Mountain lions have been recognized for their importance in maintaining the integrity of ecosystems. Humans are the biggest threat to mountain lions across their range through habitat encroachment, loss of habitat, and conflict.
On Aug. 21, 2023, DGS (as owner of the SDC property) and the Grupe/Rogal partnership (DGS developer pick) submitted a Builders Remedy (Senate Bill 330) application to Permit Sonoma for 930 housing units, a 170,000 sqf hotel, a 161,000 sqf "innovation center," 80,000 sqf of nonresidential construction, and 3,060 parking spaces. The SCALE legal team is crafting a response. Please check back here for our update.
In the meantime: CLICK HERE to read the DGS/Grupe/Rogal application.