County’s plan for Sonoma Developmental Center zooms into the spotlight

Posted on September 13, 2022 by Sonoma Valley Sun

The Sonoma County Planning Commission will present on September 15 the draft Environmental Impact Report and the draft specific plan for the Sonoma Developmental Center. The initial EIR says that the proposed 1,000 housing units, though not without “unavoidable impacts,” is environmentally sound.

Public comment is on the agenda for the virtual meeting.

The report evaluated a proposed specific plan for the 1,900-acre site, two lower density alternatives, and two scenarios “where the county doesn’t proceed with a project in 16 key areas of the property.”

While the report found significant and unavoidable impacts in such areas as vehicle miles traveled and historic preservation, the impacts from the Proposed Plan “are largely comparable to the alternatives while being more fiscally feasible and providing more housing.”

If enacted, the draft Specific Plan would be a transformative effort that charts the future of the Sonoma Valley. The plan calls for:

  • Open space protection for 700 acres and preservation of Sonoma Creek.
  • 1,000 housing units with 283 units of affordable housing.
  • Creation of more than 900 jobs that would provide diverse living-wage jobs in an economy dominated by agriculture and hospitality.
  • A walkable core with transit, pedestrian, and bike paths to provide alternatives to automobile use.
  • Institutional uses focusing on research and education driving employment.
  • Commercial, recreational, and civic uses for residents, employees, and the greater Sonoma Valley.

Participants in public outreach identified three key areas of concern among the 16 areas studied: open space and wildlife, water, and wildfire and evacuation. The Environmental Impact Report determined that the proposed specific plan would not create significant and unavoidable impacts in these areas.

The report found significant and unavoidable impacts in the areas of vehicle miles traveled and historic preservation. While the plan would involve significant historic preservation including the reuse of the Main Building and Sonoma House, there would be significant and unavoidable impacts to contributing buildings in the build-out of the campus.

The Proposed Plan includes innovative policies to reduce vehicle miles traveled like establishing a transportation management agency to lessen automobile demand and multi-modal transportation improvements.  However, it is unclear exactly how successful the strategies will be in fully offsetting the effects of induced trips.

Until its closure in 2018, the Sonoma Developmental Center provided services to people with developmental disabilities for more than 120 years and at one time was the county’s largest employer. The property includes a historic campus, agricultural lands, and vast open space resources but will require an estimated $100 million to pay for rehabilitation and infrastructure costs. State law requires the redevelopment to prioritize housing, especially affordable housing and housing for people with developmental disabilities, and be economically feasible.

The virtual meeting on Thursday, Sept. 15 at 1 p.m. with a presentation by Permit Sonoma staff followed by an opportunity for public comment. The public is invited to join the hearing via Zoom. An agenda is posted on the meeting webpage along with instructions on how to join the meeting via telephone.

In addition to the hearing, Permit Sonoma will seek public comment on the draft Environmental Impact Report until Sept. 26. The complete draft report is available for review at Permit Sonoma at 2550 Ventura Ave., Santa Rosa, CA 95403 and online at

Sonoma Sun | Sonoma, CA