By Stephanie Hiller
The future of the Sonoma Developmental Center, now approaching closure, has been a muddle and a wrangle for nearly five years. Now time is running out.
Last month we were shocked to learn of an item on the Board of Supervisors Agenda, alluding to a “closed session” discussion of an “acquisition.” After all the community’s hard work, was the property going to be sold? Turned out, the state had offered to transfer it. . . to the county!
Unfortunately, the county turned it down.
“The county is not ready to accept that enormous liability,” said Caroline Judy, the head of General Services for Sonoma County, in a phone conversation. “It has no financial ability to take it on.”
So where does that leave us, the little Valley folk with precious little financial ability ourselves, who have been promised a collaborative process to develop a “Master Plan”?
The county might accept the state’s offer, but under certain conditions. One is financial: assistance from the state to the tune of $30 million dollars a year for seven years.
The state has not replied. “I don’t think they are going to decide under this governor,” offered Judy.
In June, Marianne Thompson, a consultant with the Presidio Trust and the Treasure Island redevelopment who lives in the Springs, spoken up at the presentation by consultant Wallace, Roberts and Todd (WRT), urging us to use those buildings as soon as possible after closure, renting them out to generate income and protect the place from vandalism. The public was delighted with this suggestion. Tom Conlon, head of Transition Sonoma Valley and a member of our group quickly worked out the numbers to rent spaces at the three basic levels of affordable housing.
But here’s the glitch. Although there are some 150 buildings on as many acres in the developed “core campus” of the SDC, they can’t be used, according to county officials, without “massive retrofits,” with all the permitting documents and fees that go with it.
The layout of the buildings, designed to accommodate patients, makes them unsuitable for family-style apartments. Maybe, Gorin admitted, workers could be housed there. Having lost the family home in Oakmont to the fires, she is well aware of the shortage of trained construction workers. They can’t afford the high cost of housing.
There are nearly 11,000 people still without permanent housing in the county as a result of the fire, and rising numbers of unsheltered people throughout the county. Creating some sort of winter shelter for people now living in cars or under bridges seems doable without knocking down walls.
As for the “massive retrofits”, the “Existing Conditions Report” by WRT contradicts the impression of county officials. It concludes that most of the buildings require only minor upgrades. See Chapter 7 of the Report, which is downloadable from the Department of General Services website (http://www.dgs.ca.gov/resd/Home/SDCExistingConditionsReportAugust2018.aspx)
The big ticket item is the infrastructure — the pipes and wiring, the boilers and air conditioning, the network of basic utilities. Estimated cost: $115 million. But for those of us who would like to see an all-renewable system, that could be a blessing in disguise.
The future is not assured. There are still murmurs of “carving it up and selling it.” But it’s not too late to make our wishes known.
Our group, the Eldridge EcoVillage Association, is committed to a vision of a thriving community on the campus, utilizing entirely renewable energy sources and state-of-the-art delivery systems, with close to zero fossil fuels, minimal onsite traffic, where residents can work onsite in local businesses and nonprofit environmental organizations, and help create and manage an organic farm. In our vision, everything created in that community would be as climate resilient as possible, with specific agricultural techniques employed to maximize the “drawdown” of carbon out of the atmosphere.
This concept has been employed all around the world in smaller communities. Ecovillage designs have also been utilized to restore properties like ours, even contaminated military bases and a college campus. Wouldn’t it be great to be participants in the creation of a model community demonstrating that climate change resilience can be enjoyable?
Please add your voice. Our next meeting is September 26. Contact me for location or to be added to our email list: [email protected]/
Stephanie Hiller is a writer and teacher who has written a proposal that led to the formation of the Eldridge EcoVillage Association.