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Save the Sonoma Developmental Center


Save the Sonoma Developmental Center

by Tom Martin

What if….

  • You knew the lives and future of 430 people in Sonoma were in jeopardy? 
  • You knew 900 acres of public land and property between Sonoma and Glen Ellen were endangered?

                                 Would you act?

A Coalition to Save the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) is acting! They want everyone to know the possibility that SDC might close. At stake is the future of 430 clients and 900 acres of parkland and structures.

After election as Supervisor, Susan Gorin was named Chair of the Coalition. Ms. Gorin shares leadership with Parent Hospital Association President Kathleen Miller, Richard Dale, Sonoma Ecology Center, and John Mc Caull of the Sonoma Land Trust. The Coalition includes community groups and County departments and agencies. Their goal is   advocating for continuing service to SDC clients and preserving the surrounding land.

The California Department of Developmentally Disabled (DDS) that administers the SDC has been closing and/or reducing services at Developmental Centers statewide for several years. Clients are relocated into “homes” where agencies called Regional Centers monitor their well being.  

Of the seven developmental centers in California, the State has closed three (Camarillo, Agnews/Sacramento, and Lanterman 12/31/14). As a result the number of clients served has been severely reduced. For example, in 1994 Sonoma cared for nearly 1,200 clients. As of September, 2014, there were 430 on site.

The Parent Hospital Association speaks for clients!

Parents of SDC clients formed the Parent Hospital Association (PHA) to protect their children. President Kathleen Miller, a Santa Rosa resident, says if change is coming the parents want to have a voice and impact on the decisions. PHA sponsored November’s Coalition meeting. In attendance were parents, former employees, psych techs, environmentalists, and interested citizens. People who attended the meeting left committed to protecting the SDC. Already ministries in Sonoma have been enlisted for support.

PHA Legislative Meeting – Second Saturday In March – At SDC 

President Miller stresses the need for new protective legislation. To that end she asks community members to mark their calendars for a meeting the second Saturday of March. Three bills supporting SDC were introduced last year by Sen. Noreen Evans and Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada. They died in committee.

The Future For the Sonoma Developmental Center….

People have many ideas how to utilize the SDC in the future. However, there is a need to clarify the status of the property though legislation. PHA President Miller envisions the creation of a model community center as a standard to which other agencies might aspire. She recommends making SDC a showcase for providing disabled people medical services and education.

Mental and Physical Health Center?

Committee participants presented a variety of ideas for utilizing the SDC property and land. Among them were suggestions that the SDC might be transformed into a mental health center like that proposed for the San Francisco presidio for arts and non-profits. Another person commented that the facilities might serve as a foundation for the study of mental illness, and diseases such as Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s.

Possibilities abound. Outcomes favorable to SDC clients and the community at large require the involvement of the citizens of Sonoma. 

Watch for meeting announcements. Join the Coalition. See you there!

Seven Committees Set Goals

Springs Community Alliance Organizes For Action

The Springs Community Alliance got down to business at its November meeting. Seven Committees were created. Action agendas were identified. Committee membership is open - volunteers are welcome to join. 

Next Meeting: Thursday, Dec. 10 – 7 p.m. – Sonoma Community Health Center!

19270 Sonoma Highway
Sonoma, CA 95476
(707) 939-6070

Committees & Members:

Economic Development: Rich Lee, Ellen Conlon

Community Outreach: Maricarmen Reyes, Catalina Chavez, Tom Martin

Public Arts: Ryan Lely, Michael Acker, Patricia Bradley

Beautification: Denise Long, Anna Pier, Ryan Lely, Tom Martin

Health: Catalina Chavez, Patricia Bradley, Celia

Infrastructure-Traffic/Roads/Bicycle Trail: Ellen Conlon Patricia Bradley

Political Liaison: Rich Lee 



   Sorry to sound like a broken record (or is the expression now 'low-battery I-Pod'?) but in preserving the lands and facility at Sonoma Development Center, the county and the state might take a lesson from -- of all backward places -- Kentucky.  See this NYTimes report.  
   Rather than closing/selling SDC and dumping its residents into virtually non-existent 'community living' where everyone knows they'll receive far worse care, the charter of SDC and its talented staff could and should be expanded to serve, in residential or walk-in capacities, other types of severe physical and mental disabilities now woefully underserved, including their incidence in the homeless population.  
   For example, in addition to its current residents, SDC might be repurposed to also serve as a residential placement for special education students who, because of severe autism, emotional disturbance and other mental disabilities, cannot be appropriately educated in the general education setting.  
I  n my law practice I've represented such students and their parents trying to secure their educational rights under Federal and State law.  Finding an appropriate in-state placement for them can be a costly challenge for their school districts, who have a legal obligation to educate them even if it means doing so in facilities where they can be supervised round the clock.  Often the challenge does not stop at graduation; many require services and safe places to live as adults as they try to navigate the world of employment and so-called normal people.
   Closing SDC and selling it to developers in order to save money and monetize it for the state would most assuredly prove a classic and irreversible case of 'penny wise and pound foolish.'   Indeed, those who advocate that course were undoubtedly the inspiration for the old joke: "There are three kinds of people in the world -- those who are good at math and those who aren't."  
   SDC can and will save the state, county and local government entities infinitely more money in health care costs if it is kept open and its charter expanded.  I hope you will keep working to that end.  
Robert A. Edwards