Apr 072014
 

For over 100 years the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) near Glen Ellen has provided a safe and secure place for the developmentally disabled. Now SDC faces certain closure by the State. The only question is how long the institution will remain open.

An impressive coalition of stakeholders is working proactively to preserve the 800 acres of undeveloped land and find creative ways to serve the remaining population. The coalition grew out of ongoing efforts by environmental groups to save the only remaining wildlife corridor left in the Valley, and by the parent group to ensure care for their family members.

What Is the Status of SDC?

A moratorium on admissions has reduced the population served at SDC approximately 500 people who are the most fragile or have multiple impairments. SDC is the largest employer in the Valley, including many workers with skills found nowhere else in the state.

SDC wildlands

SDC wildlands

SDC’s lands connect Sonoma Mountain and the Mayacamas Mountain Range on the eastern   slopes. SDC is the linchpin. Its valley floor lands are largely undeveloped. SDC covers 1000 acres, including the 200-acre footprint of buildings and 800-acre wildlands.

Some of the several hundred buildings in the footprint of SDC are architectural gems. Some are medical clinics and labs, Some are the resident’s homes. Some serve as schools, sheltered workshops, and recreational centers. SDC also includes a farm run for the clients, and two community-used fields for soccer and baseball. The area is laced with trails that have been used for a century by generations of Valley residents. Two lakes store water for irrigation and client use.

Future use of these buildings is a concern of the coalition. Numerous options for an expanded health facility for people with special needs are being discussed, and will be proposed to the State.

Who Is the Coalition?

Coalition members include the Sonoma Land Trust, the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, the Sonoma Ecology Center, Sonoma County Regional Parks, Sonoma Mountain Preservation, the Parent Hospital Association, the County Economic Development Board, the Sonoma County Water Agency, Labor Representatives from the Center, a former Director at the Center, Medical personnel, Jack London Park representatives, Sonoma County Health Services, and District Representatives from the Offices of Senator Noreen Evans, Assembly member Yamada, and Representative Mike Thompson. First District Supervisor Susan Gorin leads the effort. The group meets monthly.

Coalition members have been working closely with Department Directors in Sacramento, attending meetings, and keeping a close watch on developments. Senator Evans has introduced SB 1428, a bill to protect the wild lands. More bills are in the hopper.  Sonoma County Supervisors will soon receive a briefing on the ongoing developments.

Past Citizen Efforts Saved Open Space

In 2000, State plans to surplus some acres of old SDC orchard for a vineyard lease or certain sale to developers prompted a general meeting of citizens in Sonoma Valley. Led by SMP and other local groups, several hundred people with strong commitment to preserving SDC upper lands convinced then State Senator Mike Thompson to introduce a bill to ensure that the upper lands would be saved for open space. Over 600 acres of undeveloped lands at SDC were deeded between 2000 and 2002 to State Department of Parks and Recreation, which then added these acres to Jack London State Historic Park.

In the coming months there will be a community meeting to engage support for the efforts of the coalition. We invite you to join in the effort we know is to come!

By Diane (Mickey) Cooke  

Feb 272014
 

One night in 2009, a black bear was spotted by five different people near Adobe Creek in Petaluma. After being chased by a helicopter, the bear followed that creek back up and over Sonoma Mountain to return to Napa County from whence he or she had probably started.

It is likely that this adventurous ursine was using the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor to travel from Napa County through the Sonoma Valley and up and over Sonoma Mountain.

This bear didn’t just drop into Petaluma — he or she had been able to travel a long distance, safely and mostly unseen, through existing land and creek corridors. Such corridors are essential for wildlife passage — not just for large carnivores, like bear and mountain lion, but for the many smaller critters as well, like raccoon, fox and bobcat.

Sonoma Land Trust has embarked on a multi-year project to keep open a narrow pinch point in the high-priority Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor that is at serious risk of closing up. Five miles long and only three-quarters of a mile wide at its narrowest point—the “pinch point”—the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor stretches from Sonoma Mountain, across Sonoma Creek and the valley floor, and east to the top of the Mayacamas range. It is located within the “Marin Coast to Blue Ridge Critical Linkage” identified in the Bay Area Critical Linkages Project and Conservation Lands Network, both projects of the Bay Area Open Space Council.

wildlife corridor map

Because of the work of SLT, SMP, and others over the years, more than 8,000 acres of the corridor are already protected as natural land. It is the unprotected land at the heart of the wildlife corridor on which efforts are now focused.

Ensuring that wildlife can move safely through the landscape so their populations can persist in the face of development and climate change projections is the goal of this large-scale project. Acquiring new properties is only one way of accomplishing this.

“We can’t afford to buy the entire corridor, nor would we want to because collaborating with private landowners is a very effective conservation strategy,” says Wendy Eliot, Sonoma Land Trust’s conservation director. “So we are using a variety of land protection tools to protect and enhance the corridor’s permeability, such as deed restrictions and new types of conservation easements and neighbor agreements — along with purchasing at-risk parcels.” SLT staff is developing model conservation easement language, focused on “wildlife freedom of movement” that will be used by many conservation groups working to secure wildlife corridors.

coyoteSonMtn

To validate the theory that this area is operating as a functional wildlife corridor, SLT has placed wildlife cameras on Sonoma Mountain and up and down the valley to collect data on the animals who live there. Cameras have captured mountain lion, fox, dueling bucks, opossum, bobcat, skunk, coyote, turkey vultures, jackrabbits, squirrels, and more.

The role of SDC wildlands is crucial to preservation of the wildlife corridor. The SDC Coalition, of which SMP and SLT are a part, aims to create a scenario in which the clients’ needs are served while providing urgent environmental protections — for the wildlife corridor, watershed preservation and public access. Successful protection of the undeveloped portions of the SDC would directly link more than 9,000 acres of protected land and help ensure the continued movement of wildlife across the Sonoma Valley and beyond. There are no do-overs once land is developed.

Simple things landowners can do to improve wildlife movement:

• Remove unnecessary fencing
• Modify fencing for wildlife passage
• Turn off lights at night
• Don’t leave pets (or pet food) outside at night
• Reduce nighttime noise
• Eliminate or minimize pesticide and herbicide use
• Modify vegetation management: Protect your home from wildfire, but leave enough cover for wildlife.

Map, infrared camera photo, and information courtesy of Sonoma Land Trust

Dec 282013
 

On Saturday, November 2, 2013 the Sonoma Trails Council with a volunteer work party of 40 sponsored by REI  spent time readying the East Slope trail for final work in March 2014 when the trail will be constructed. After a morning clearing brush the volunteers were rewarded for their hard work with burritos provided by Chipolte.  Thank you to everyone who came out and to the wonderful businesses that supported the effort.

sonoma mountain trail volunteer
sonoma mountain volunteer work day
sonoma mountain trail restoration
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sonoma mountain preservation work trail
sonoma mountain volunteer work day rei chipotle
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Dec 092013
 

sonoma developmental center trail jack london sonoma mountainSonoma Developmental Center (SDC) is the oldest facility in California established specifically to serve individuals with developmental disabilities. It opened to 148 residents on November 24, 1891, culminating a ten-year project by two northern California women who had children with developmental disabilities, then referred to as feeble-minded. Private owners donated the land for that purpose.

Since then the facility at Eldridge has undergone four name changes and has expanded several times. As anyone who has hiked southeast from Jack London State Historic Park will know, you can now clamber down through the orchard once used by and for SDC clients. But it almost wasn’t so.

In the mid-90s the state decided that the farm on the upper acres could no longer benefit the increasingly infirm residents, so the old orchard and other upper wooded areas, reaching to the ridgeline of Sonoma Mountain were declared surplus property to be sold for any purpose. One local vineyard owner sought the land for grape growing with some proceeds dedicated to support the disabled.

In February 1996, over 200 citizens attended a meeting chaired by then state senator Mike Thompson and organized by SMP. A strong majority of attendees supported keeping the lands in its current state and adding them to adjacent Jack London Park.

For the next five years local and state agencies planned, re-planned and re-thought options for the more than 600 acres. In addition to Thompson’s office and SMP, the county Open Space District got involved. Eventually the state moved from advocating the sale for vineyard use to sale for multiple purposes (including housing) to, ultimately, transfer of the entire acreage to the state Parks Department for expanding Jack London Park. SMP veterans advocated vigorously throughout this time for the open space option.

In 2001, thanks largely to then Assembly member Pat Wiggins, negotiations between state agencies got underway and reached conclusion with SMP members, among others, at the table.

Isn’t it time to take a walk?

Dec 092012
 

sonoma mountain oak tree What does it take to build the kind of trail Bill Kortum envisions for his grandson? Mainly, it takes access to land and permission of property owners. The more property owners, the most challenging it may be to assemble a pathway for future generations, to let them experience the majesty of the mountain and be inspired to care for it.

Right now nine owners hold parcels of 600 acres or more each within SMP area of interest on Sonoma Mountain. Altogether they own approximately 8500 acres, mainly for agriculture. In some cases the owners may want to retain title and current uses in perpetuity; in others, as people age and consider their options, land will change hands, be divided up, and options for more development will be exploited.

Landowners who place conservation easements on large swaths of their land can protect it for watershed, habitat and recreation. Maintaining critical wildlife corridors will help ensure that we do our share to protect at-risk and endangered species that need the mountain to survive, and to give young Willy a place to hike.

Dec 012012
 

sonoma mountain sonoma developmental center SDCIt’s no secret that the Sonoma Developmental Center – one of only four such large residential care facilities left in the state – may close down in the not too distant future. SDC’s website shows 523 clients now live there; the state has been shuttering these facilities when the populations drop below 500. Families of residents want the facility to stay open so their relatives don’t have toe leave the bucolic and relatively safe environs. But the state may be forced to hut SDC down and relocate remaining clients to comply with the 1969 Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Services Act.

Local Sonoma residents have expressed concern, not only for the sake of these clients, but also for the welfare of the lands that SDC encompasses. What will the state decide to do with the property when it no longer serves SDC’s needs?

At a recent gathering at the Sonoma Ecology Center, which rents space on the SDC campus, a dozen individuals and representatives of organizations, including the Ecology Center, Sonoma Land Trust, the county Agriculture and Open Space District, SMP, county parks and state parks, talked about this critical property.

Why is it critical? SDC sits on the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor, a vital connection identified and described by the Sonoma Ecology Center. Some of the last available open space for endangered and at-risk species to migrate from Sonoma Mountain east to the Mayacamas crosses Sonoma Valley through and adjacent to the state-owned facility. Recently, the Bay Area Critical Linkages project (sponsored by the Bay Area Open Space Council) identified this habitat corridor as a top priority wildlife link in the Bay Area.

When the state decides it can no longer maintain SDC in its current configuration and at its current cost, the land may be declared surplus property and potentially sold or leased for development. Family members of SDC clients have begun to explore options for an alternative development that would meet the requirements of the Lanterman Act, enable clients to remain on the land, and provide revenue to the state by adding a variety of marketable components.

Creating a scenario in which the clients’ needs are served while providing urgent environmental protections – for a wildlife corridor, watershed preservation, traffic mitigation, and public access – would be the optimal outcome as these and potentially other concerned groups begin to grapple with the future of this keystone property.

Oct 092009
 

sonoma mountain preserve

Back in September 2008, as the economy moved closer to the brink, not much was happening on the local real estate front besides foreclosure sales.  But one opportunity quietly emerged that launched a frenzy of activity and a lot of optimism in a generally economic time.

The opportunity also gave leaders in SMP a chance to create a wonderful story with a happy ending, through teamwork, old friends working together, their daughters learning to work together and the cooperation and coordination of public agencies and on-profits.

The opportunity arose when a 287-acre parcel near the summit of Sonoma Mountain known as the Stevenson Ranch came up for sale. Kirsten Lindquist, an agent for Sotheby’s in Sonoma, learned of the offering by accident, but immediately recognized the enormity of the chance to obtain and preserve this property for use by the public.

She informed her mother, Mickey Cooke, long time resident and founding member of SMP. Mickey told Kirsten to call Mickey’s childhood friend and fellow SMP leader, Pat Eliot. Pat, busy packing for a hiking trip in Europe, quickly called her own daughter, Wendy Eliot, conservation director for the Sonoma Land Trust. And so it began.

Ted Eliot, Pat’s husband and campaign manager for the recent ballot initiative that renewed funding for the Sonoma County Agricultural and Open Space District (OSD), got on the phone to Andrea Mackenzie, then general manager of the OSD; Ralph Benson, executive director of the Sonoma Land Trust and Valerie Brown, supervisor for District 1. Everyone recognized how special this opportunity was.

Over the next two months, while the economy crashed and most of us struggled to confront the holidays with reduced resources, Wendy and Andrea worked intensely to put together a deal that would satisfy the seller who demand the sale close by the end of the year. It was an unusually tight time frame for a conservation sale, which, as in this case, usually involves financing from more than one source. And financing options were shrinking.

Through long hours, diligent negotiating, a persuasive case for the public good and the trust and bonding that comes from old friendships and shared passions, they made the sale and the deadline.

Kirsten served as the buyer’s agent (a condition imposed by the seller) and then donated $50,000 back to the Land Trust.

Mickey and Pat cheered their daughters on, added historic information to help make the case for funding and delighted in the new alliances being formed in the process.

Wendy and Andrea developed the strategy and negotiated carefully, coming up with $125,000 from the Land Trust for an initial deposit, and then $8.45 million from the Open Space District and $1.5 million from the California Coastal Conservancy. The final piece from the conservancy was the last check issued by the state before its funding freeze took effect; the deal was a cliffhanger to the end.

Now, the mountaintop where Mickey Cooke and Pat Eliot rode their horses as young women in the 1940s has been saved forever as open space by their daughters in the first decade of the 21st century.

The acquisition engaged senior personal in the agencies and non-profits in a way they hadn’t previously experienced, leading to the possibility of future collaborations.

 

~Margaret Spaulding

Oct 152007
 

The addition of over 600 acres to the Jack London State Historic Park was the culmination of a seven-year effort led by Sonoma Mountain Preservation (SMP). The transfer of the two upper western parcels of the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC), which increased the Park’s acreage by over 40 per cent, was celebrated on September 5, 2002.

sonoma mountain jack londonThe future of these parcels first came into question in 1995 when the California Department of General Services (DGS) declared them to be surplus to the needs of the Center. SMP organized a public meeting in February 1996 to discuss the disposition of these ecologically important lands, which, under proposed legislation, would be available for vineyard development. Over 200 citizens attended this meeting and voiced an almost unanimous opinion that the parcels should be maintained in their natural condition and added to the Park.

The legislation was amended to include an option to sell or exchange the two parcels in a transaction that would result in their becoming part of Jack London Park. The following year the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District (OSD) chaired a public meeting where once again public settlement remained the same: open space for the two parcels. In Sacramento DGS continued working toward an agricultural lease on the lower parcel which included the “old orchards” and the old growth redwood tree.

In January 1998 a break-through came when the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved OSD’s purchase of a forever-wild easement over the upper of the two parcels as a coast of $255,000. At a public meeting in January 1998, attended by over 250 people, there was again opposition to an agricultural lease over the lower “old orchards” parcel.

In the fall of 2000, an environmental consultant contracted by the DGS began work on a two-year land-use feasibility study for the “old orchards” parcel, which could have resulted in a multiplicity of suggested uses and opened the way for intensive agriculture, and possible sale of house sites below Fern Lake. By December, DGS had reversed its position to concentrate solely on the conversion of “old orchards” to vineyards.

In February 2001, with tremendous effort by legislative members Wiggins, Nation and Chesbro, transfer of the two parcels to Jack London State Park became the goal. By June 2001, the land-use feasibility study concluded that the State Park would be the optimum organization to have control and oversight over the lower parcel. The study cited the Park Department’s ability to protect both the watershed and historical and natural resources of the land. The transfer of the two parcels to Jack London State Historic Park took place.

In August 2002, the Sonoma Ridge Trail, a segment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail system, was dedicated on the upper of the two transferred parcels.

~Pat Eliot, Sonoma Mountain Preservation