Sonoma Ecology Center’s vision for the SDC campus

Posted on November 13, 2021 by Sonoma Valley Sun

On Monday, Sonoma County released three versions of a plan for the  development of the Sonoma Developmental Center, the empty and deteriorating facility on 900-plus acres just south of Glen Ellen. 

The long-awaited site specific plan presents variations of a master plan combining housing, hospitality, support infrastructure, and preservation of wild space and historic structures.

But the Sonoma Ecology Center says the plan does not adequately address pressing environmental issues, including climate change and the biodiversity crisis.

“If we want to succeed at solving the most pressing environmental issues,” the SEC wrote this week,  “we must find solutions that address multiple challenges simultaneously: environmental, social, and economic.

“Following are some of our recommendations, which are not adequately reflected in the current alternatives.”

Protecting the SDC Campus’ Wild Spaces

First, new development on the site needs to protect the site’s wild spaces, especially its significant wildlife corridor. We would like to see the wildlife corridor expanded at its narrowest point along the north and northeast side of the campus, by pulling the boundary of the developable area inward. Setbacks along Sonoma Creek should be larger–100 feet–to make room for a reestablished floodplain, riparian habitat, steelhead recovery, and groundwater recharge. The wetlands in the eastern meadows should be protected and restored.

The site’s many water features–reservoirs, springs, streams, wetlands–should be managed holistically to produce multiple benefits to the entire Valley’s people and ecosystems. Developed areas should all have foot trails connecting to natural spaces, for all the benefits that occur from human connection with them, while assuring that they retain their ecological function. Paths and recreational areas are good, but they should keep away from the wildlife corridor and Sonoma Creek. Built areas and paths should use Dark Sky standards.

Housing for Current and Future Generations

Second, we would like to see housing created that serves the needs of current and future generations, with homes for people of diverse economic and developmental capacities. Any housing plan for SDC must go beyond market-driven factors that are driving people—up to and including the middle class—out of the Sonoma Valley.

Housing at SDC should be a model for reversing this trend, not exacerbating it. SEC calls for 75% of the site’s housing to be affordable to below-AMI residents, including a mix of rental and owner-occupied units, whether via subsidy or affordable “by design”. Community land trusts are an excellent tool for creating permanently affordable housing. Frequent flexible transit is key for reducing driving and pollution.

Economic Resources for a Resilient Future

Third, we would like to see an economic engine, at the right scale for the site, that serves current and future community residents with work that is meaningful and that provides a pathway for those who grow up here to stay. Combining work with housing reduces vehicle trips and creates a sense of place. For example, to tackle our planetary crisis, we propose a climate response center at SDC that researches, designs, and develops products and processes that mitigate and adapt to climate change. It can be funded by a partnership of public, private and social sectors– including the state of California, which recently pledged $15 billion to climate efforts–and governed using community-driven guiding principles.

The center would offer higher-paying jobs plus educational opportunities from internships to vocational training. An associated meeting and classroom space, with housing, could be shared by several institutions. A nonprofit hub could house local organizations–including SEC–that are involved in the site, and interpret the site’s natural resources to students of all ages.

This property offers a vanishingly rare opportunity to protect an irreplaceable ecological legacy while also providing housing and jobs for generations to come. Sonoma Ecology Center embraces this vision and invites you to join us.

There are multiple ways to get involved, virtual meetings are listed below, and if you are unable to attend one, all community members are encouraged to make comments via email at: [email protected].

Upcoming Meetings:

SDC Spanish Language Town Hall (All Spanish) Tuesday, November 16, 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm
Localización/ Location: Hunt Hall @ St. Leo’s Catholic Church, 601 W. Agua Caliente Rd Sonoma, CA 95476 

Joint SMAC/NSVMAC/SVCAC Meeting – Wednesday November 17, 6:30 pm
Register Here – This meeting will be conducted via zoom 


2 thoughts on “Sonoma Ecology Center’s vision for the SDC campus

  1. Hi!
    Thank you for writing this.

    I agree that we need a fourth alternative that will work for all of us.

    My hope is that the numerous groups working on a fourth alternative are working together to create one strong one, incorporating the best of the best of each of their proposals. I know that you can all work cooperatively together and that with your collective strength you can accomplish this!

    I, also, think that it will have more impact if it is presented using a similar format as the county proposals, with graphs, maps, and renderings. I know that this is a tall order given the timeframe and I am sure that many of you are burning the midnight oil working on it. I am willing to help in any way that I can.

    Thank you, again.
    Laurie Pile

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