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Sonoma Developmental Center’s Future - Top of Sonoma Valley Agenda

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Sonoma Developmental Center’s Future is at the Top of Sonoma Valley Agenda


By Thomas Martin

Last March 14 elected representatives and over 200 citizens exchanged views regarding the future of the Developmental Center. Kathleen Miller, President of the Parents’ Organization, was adamant when she said change is coming to the SDC and we need to help determine what that change will be. 

Republican legislators from Southern California who have never visited the SDC recently introduced proposals to close developmental centers and send the clients, children and relatives of speakers, to for profit “community homes.” 

Speaker after speaker decried this proposal. It was a common sentiment that sending SDC clients to a regional center home “was a death sentence!”  People unfamiliar with SDC clients have no understanding of the severity of their disabilities. Client disabilities range from mental health issues to extreme physical problems beyond the average citizen’s comprehension.

The magnificent 1600 acres of property was central for speakers like John McCall from the Sonoma Land Trust. He pointed out that no less than a dozen environmental organizations and public agencies wish to protect the properties from private development and exploitation. Beth Hadley, President of the Sonoma Valley Democrats and former SDC employee, pleaded, “don’t let property that has been owned by California for over 100 years be sold to the highest bidder!” (Applause)

Sonoma Developmental Center from above

Helen Rountree voiced views asked by many people, “If SDC activities become diminished why not replace them on this property with alternative services. For example, create a mental health center for northern California or turn the premises into an Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s research center? (Applause)

An argument for closure is that community homes administered by Regional Centers are better suited to handle disabled people. Luanta Vaetoe, Chief Executive of Santa Rosa’s Becoming Independent, a community based program, says that because of underfunding for two decades, “relatives of the 400 residents of the Sonoma Developmental Center near Glen Ellen have every reason to be disturbed by calls for closure of the center.” (PD 3/20/15)

Local politicos were on hand to hear and state their backing for the SDC and its environs. Congressman Mike Thompson’s support for the SDC was stated by Stephen Gale. State Senator Mike Maguire and Assemblyman Bill Dodd were joined by a representative of Senator Lois Wolk’s office. Each legislator opposed closing the SDC. Susan Gorin, Chair of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, expressed her long held belief that the SDC is too important an institution for the clients and community to close. An administrative perspective was provided by Santi Rogers, Director of Developmental Services. Mariko Yamada, former Assemblywoman and possible State Senate candidate in 2016, was in attendance. 

President Kathleen Miller concluded, “Change is coming. Be prepared, do your homework, study the issues, get all proposals in writing, demand greater openness about community homes, protect the land, and let’s not allow the SDC to be sold as a high end tourist destination!” (Applause) “Let’s hope those in Sacramento have open hearts and minds.”