10 points to consider regarding SDC Specific Plan
By Alice Horowitz
The Glen Ellen Forum SDC/Eldridge Committee is focused on keeping the Glen Ellen community up to date on all matters SDC (the now-closed Sonoma Developmental Center). We consider it our responsibility to: 1) solicit community input regarding the SDC Specific Plan; and 2) share that input with interested parties, especially those crafting the final Specific Plan. While we don't claim to speak for the entire community, as individuals with deep ties to the SDC property, we do possess a great deal of insight into some of the most pressing concerns on our community's collective mind.
During the recent Community Workshop hosted by Dyett and Bhatia and Sonoma County, one PAT (Planning Advisory Team) member stated in a breakout room that, "Glen Ellen's primary concern with redevelopment of the SDC is traffic." While increased traffic is definitely a main concern, it's not the only one. Hoping to provide a comprehensive summation of key issues, as expressed during previous community workshops, we respectfully submit the following:
1. Fundamental to our understanding of the SDC's transition process are promises that the approximately 700 acres of "lands outside the core developed campus and its related infrastructure be preserved as public parkland and open space." Until a land protection proposal is officially accepted and implemented, we request full transparency regarding negotiations surrounding open space boundaries and arrangements for resource management.
2. The public has been promised transparency and participation in a "robust community-driven process." While many of the proposed guiding principles presented at the recent workshop are consistent with the 2019 draft vision and principles developed by the community and vetted in public workshops, critical differences ignore the setting of the SDC campus within the existing Glen Ellen community. For example, the fact that a) the concept of compatibility with the surrounding community is not included, and b) an emphasis has been placed on high density housing and urban uses, leaves many of us wondering if our opinions are truly being taken into account. Widespread solicitation of comments on the proposed drafts is needed to ensure the Board of Supervisors consider a well-vetted vision and guiding principles in January 2021.
3. While redevelopment of the SDC must pencil out, we question whether the Specific Plan should prioritize the profits of a master developer over the needs and desires of the local community, which has to live through disruptions of redevelopment, the final outcome, and the aggregate impacts such a huge project entails. Compromises should be made that benefit the community as well as a potential developer.
4. We support a moderate level of housing, with preference for affordable, senior, veteran, and for individuals with disabilities, at a scale compatible with and beneficial to the surrounding community, and that will not overburden the single existing traffic corridor through Glen Ellen. New buildings should respect village architecture and historic buildings onsite, as opposed to urban-style housing. The SDC property is not in an urban growth area; redevelopment should adhere to the County General Plan and Glen Ellen's Development/Design Guidelines.
5. We support the creation of commercial enterprises and public resources that will enable our new neighbors to work, shop, and recreate within walking distance of their homes. However, we seek assurance that viability of downtown Glen Ellen businesses will not be undermined by competing businesses on the SDC site.
6. We are perplexed by the assumption that a new SDC community will somehow be "self-contained." Rather than focusing on how it will stand apart, potentially as an exclusive, out-of-context, urban community, we would like to hear more about how redevelopment will be integrated into surrounding communities.
7. Evacuation in the event of fire and other emergencies is a big concern. While Oakmont was successfully evacuated during the Glass Fire, Oakmont residents have reported spending hours in traffic while trying to evacuate. We welcome a comprehensive community safety plan that takes into account the SDC campus's proximity to open space, and that tailors redevelopment to the Wildland-Urban Interface transition zone.
8. Redevelopment of the SDC campus could disrupt the ability of animals to move safely through the pinch point in the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor. We encourage efforts to strengthen the wildlife corridor: fencing should be kept to a minimum, the riparian corridor should be enlarged by establishing greater setbacks, and reductions of the entire campus footprint should be considered wherever possible. We applaud the Upper Sonoma Creek Restoration Vision developed by the Sonoma Ecology Center (sonomaecologycenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Upper-Sonoma-Creek-Restoration-Vision-Booklet.pdf) and believe it should be a factor in development of the Specific Plan.
9. We support a) the creation of a memorial park at the Eldridge Cemetery, and b) the protection of historical resources on the SDC campus site. In addition to rehabilitation of several buildings of historical significance and preservation of the landscapes in which they are situated, the Glen Ellen Historical Society's call for establishment of a Historical Preservation Area, including a museum, library, and visitor center, enjoys broad support. The SDC's lengthy legacy of care should carry into the future by providing housing for individuals with developmental disabilities and fostering a community where the causes of economic and social equity, sustainability, and mitigating climate change are supported.
10. More time is needed to complete the Specific Plan process. The inability to meet in person to discuss the vision and guiding principles, as well as any alternatives, substantially interferes with the process of engaging the community in a real dialogue. To truly create a community-driven plan, the County must work with the State to obtain a time extension.
The local community treasures both the SDC property and the small town character of Glen Ellen. Galvanized by the opportunity to help shape the SDC's future, we stand firm in our desire to maintain its connectedness to our community. Change on such a large scale will not come without a certain degree of sacrifice on our part. We ask that close attention be paid to the concerns of those who will most directly be affected by redevelopment of the site.
Alice Horowitz is a Glen Ellen resident and co-chair of the SDC/Eldridge Committee of the Glen Ellen Forum.