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Guest Editor: 11/15/2020

What is Glen Ellen?



Guest Editor – What is Glen Ellen?

By Tracy Salcedo

After a long lull, the specific planning process for the former Sonoma Developmental Center property is kicking back into gear. The focus is on Eldridge, but the fact is that, given the intimate ties between Eldridge and Glen Ellen, my little hometown is also entering a brave new phase of its existence.

As I’ve encountered proposals for Eldridge and participated in the planning process, I’ve been struck by the fact that, over and over again, the ties between the two places are either overlooked or misunderstood. While I find it disappointing that explaining the ties is necessary at this stage of the game, it’s also an opportunity. And it has an unanticipated upside: I’ve once again fallen in love with you, Glen Ellen.

Here’s an edited version of what I wrote. You can find the full piece online at eldridgeforall.com.

The basics

Glen Ellen and Eldridge are inseparable. If you look at a map, you’ll see that Eldridge is completely surrounded by Glen Ellen. As one local community leader put it, Eldridge is the hole in the Glen Ellen donut.

What happens to Eldridge happens to Glen Ellen. If Eldridge becomes a resort, Glen Ellen becomes a resort. If Eldridge is urbanized, Glen Ellen is urbanized. If Eldridge becomes a model of sustainability and resiliency, Glen Ellen becomes a model of sustainability and resiliency.

Eldridge is not a blank slate. Eldridge is now empty, hence the illusion. But Eldridge exists as part of Glen Ellen. Since their genesis in the nineteenth century, the twin villages have grown in tandem and possess the same intimate connections to the region’s wild places and to a legacy of caring. This connection can’t be monetized, but that doesn’t make the connection less valuable than money.

Glen Ellen in a nutshell

Glen Ellen is a small, tight-knit, rural village. This isn’t wishful thinking on my part; it’s also codified in Sonoma County’s General Plan and the Glen Ellen Development and Design Guidelines.

On the ground, Glen Ellen’s rural residential character looks like this: Homes on the north side of the Eldridge campus are on larger parcels, with the exception of those closest to the “downtown” area. It’s country living. On the south side of Eldridge homes are closer together, but the mood is the same. It’s still country living. Whether you live in the apartments on Madrone or in the woods on London Ranch Road, you live in a small town.

A matter of scale

The argument that Eldridge should be able to accommodate thousands of residents and workers because it used to house and employ thousands of residents and workers is not valid. At its most populous, most of the residents of Eldridge did not leave Eldridge. They couldn’t, because they were disabled. To drop an equal number of people who are not disabled into the same place doesn’t replicate Eldridge, it blows Eldridge up (and Glen Ellen with it).

Many wonderful, innovative ideas have been proposed as part of the redevelopment process. Data collated as part of the previous community workshops supports these ideals. Bring on housing that’s affordable, housing for the developmentally disabled, sustainable agriculture, post-petroleum enterprise, an “institute” that researches and implements principles of resiliency. Bring on innovation.

But bring it on at a scale that both fits and benefits the village that already exists. Bring it on recognizing that the village already embraces and lives by these ideals. Bring it on at the scale that enables the residents of the existing village to feel safe, and that cultivates, rather than dilutes, the small-town, natural values that drew us here and have kept us here.

To do this, it must be understood that the existing village is as important as the goal.

The importance of transparency

A number of proposals have emerged, developed by small groups of people reimagining what can happen on the property. There’s CEPEC, there’s the SDC Campus Project, there’s CAFF, there’s the Eldridge Enterprise, and there are other plans, without doubt, in the works.

The assumption of the Glen Ellen Forum, and of the larger community, has been that the specific planning process, and the proposals it generates, would be community driven. Most of the circulating proposals remain outside the specific planning process, as they should. The specific planning process for Eldridge must remain transparent, otherwise trust in a community-driven process is broken.

The myth of NIMBY

With the formation of the Glen Ellen Forum in 2016, Glen Ellen has helped host forward-facing community workshops to shape a vision and guiding principles for Eldridge’s redevelopment. The community’s approach to that redevelopment is pragmatic and realistic, but constrained by the realities of being unincorporated.

We know change is inevitable. All we want—and I feel confident saying “we” here, because Glen Ellenites helped collate the feedback from the Hanna and Dunbar workshops—is for change to be moderated so that the existing community survives and has the ability to define itself, even as it absorbs change. The interests of the immediate community should carry the same weight as the interests of prospective developers, the broader community, and private, commercial, nonprofit, and political interests.

A vision for Eldridge

As we’ve had to circle up, yet again, to create a vision for the site, we, as a community, are forced to be reactive to proposals, rather than proactive in helping develop proposals. That begs the question: What does community driven mean? To me, it means no matter where proposals originate, they reflect not only the desires of their proponents, but also an understanding of what is fundamental:

Look at it this way: Glen Ellen is the village about to be inundated by the dam. The powers-that-be believe the dam is a greater good, and the little village in the valley should just roll over and accept obliteration. My response is, if you inundate Glen Ellen and Eldridge – their rural characters, the peace that comes when you drive up Arnold Drive into the embrace of oaks and open space – you destroy exactly what you seek to exploit.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: The residents of Glen Ellen will be the most profoundly impacted of all communities by what happens in Eldridge. Everyone else gets to go home, but we have to live with it – the density, the traffic, the change. All we want to do is inform that change.

Community is priceless. And worth fighting for.



Email: Tracy@kenwoodpress.com

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