Nov 022022

Meg Beeler: Carrying the Voice of the Mountain, Building Connection

This is the fourth of a series of monthly interviews we are conducting with the Sonoma Mountain Preservation board members. 

Meg Beeler, SMP’s Chair for ten years, lives on the mountain. She is an author and Shamanic Guide, founder of Earth Caretakers Wisdom School, master gardener, and lifelong explorer of shamanic, animist, and meditative consciousness. She was formerly a Silicon Valley consultant and author of many technical books. Her lifelong passions—soul healing, heart opening, and reweaving the connections between all beings—feed her activist and healing work. Meg practices Earth-centered, nature-based, Andean mysticism and leads land-based community ceremonies. Meg is the author of Weave the Heart of the Universe into Your Life: Aligning with Cosmic Energy and a contributing author and photographer to Where the World Begins.

What is your relationship with Sonoma Mountain? 

Deep and loving! I live on the mountain and draw sustenance from her spirit. I walk her flanks and explore her mysteries daily. And as a member of SMP’s Board, I speak for the mountain and advocate for her whole ecosystem, including humans, creatures, plant communities, fire, water, geology, and so on.

When did you join the SMP Board, and what drew you to it? 

I googled the mountain and found SMP as soon as I moved here, 17 years ago! The founders—Pat Eliot, Mickey Cooke, and others—were amazing humans whom I wanted to know better. I loved being around and learning from people who knew the landscape deeply and were advocates for its beauty, preservation, and access. About ten years ago I was surprised and honored when they asked me to be Board Chair. 

One of my aims has been to bring the spirit of the mountain into all our advocacy. Working collaboratively with so many community members and organizations for the open space and sustainability of Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) has been one piece. Publishing our beautiful, award-winning Where the World Begins: Sonoma Mountain Stories and Images, and the accompanying education about the whole mountain has been another.

What do you do for SMP? 

I hold our vision for deepening people’s awareness, access, appreciation, and reciprocity with the Mountain. Supporting the all-volunteer Board members means encouraging their strengths, appreciating them, and having fun together. As a quasi-CEO—we have only part-time administrative staff—I keep us focused on our strategy and the many threads of our work, keep us accountable, and follow up on the many operational details. Above all, I bring the Mountain’s interests with me into every Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission testimony and into every letter I write. 

For SDC, it’s meant nine years of meetings, learning to read and comment on Environmental Impact Reports, and advocating for the open space transfer and riparian zone protection over and over and over.

Do you see your work as a shamanic guide reflected in your work with SMP?

Oh yes. I was always a mountain person and earth caretaker. When I learned shamanic practice, I improved my ability to listen to the mountains and trees, speak with the spirits of the land, and make offerings and ceremonies for them. My practice comes from the Andes, where mountains and stars dominate the landscape, and also from what’s called core shamanic journeying. My indigenous teachers came out of hiding because of prophecies about these times; they wanted to help us re-member our deep connection and reciprocal ways of living within the web of life. It’s my passion to carry these ways into the world and empower folks. 

What would you like to see in the future for Sonoma Mountain? 

SMP supports conserving and preserving 50% of the wild lands of the Sonoma Mountains, not just 30% by 2030, which is the goal of the 100-country-strong international conservation campaign. So far, the Sonoma Mountains are 21% protected. We want to extend the Ridge Trail so that the quarter-million people living around the mountain can experience the whole. We dream of connecting every nearby school child with Sonoma Mountain so their connection to nature and sense of place fuels their engagement and gives them solace.

What are your favorite memories of Sonoma Mountain? 

When I first began hiking the mountain, I felt like an adventurer because many trails were not marked or mapped. Arthur Dawson told me generally where Grandmother Redwood was, so Tom and I sleuthed our way around until we found it. I love sitting silently with her, and also to bring people to experience this 2,000-year-old remnant of what was a vast redwood forest on Sonoma Mountain. Now she reaches towards me when I arrive; we have a relationship.

Interview conducted by Soneile Hymn. This interview has been edited for clarity and readability.

Oct 022022

Larry Modell, Lafferty, and the Petaluma Perspective

This is the third of a series of monthly interviews we are conducting with the Sonoma Mountain Preservation board members. 

Larry Modell grew up in Mill Valley and became an avid hiker on Tamalpais and Marin’s coastal hills. After graduating from UC Berkeley and working as a professional musician in Los Angeles for several years, he returned to the North Bay in 1982 and worked as a “data nerd” (data modeler and database designer) for several organizations including Fair, Isaac in San Rafael and American AgCredit in Santa Rosa. Living in east Petaluma at the base of Sonoma Mountain, and mentored by such luminaries as Bill Kortum and Pat Eliot, Larry has become a leading advocate for local public lands, trails, and open space with Friends of Lafferty Park, Petaluma Tomorrow, and now Sonoma Mountain Preservation. He has raised two daughters with his wife Joani, who still live and work in Sonoma County and are still willing to go on hikes with Dad. 

What is your connection to Sonoma Mountain?

Sonoma Mountain commands the viewshed of the Petaluma Valley, especially eastern Petaluma, where I have lived since 1984. It is the signature landform for the area and the county’s namesake. I live next to a street called Sonoma Mountain Parkway, and my kids attended Sonoma Mountain Elementary School. All the local creeks have their headwaters on that mountain. Imagine my surprise at learning there was no place I could hike or explore the part of the mountain that faced Petaluma! 

When and how did you join the SMP Board? 

I attended several SMP meetings, often with Bill Kortum, in the late 1990s and early 2000s when George Ellman and Pat Eliot were in the leadership. More recently, my longtime friend and fellow activist Matt Maguire was on the board, and he asked me to take over his “Petaluma perspective” when he was no longer able to serve. I officially joined in late 2021.  

What is “Friends of Lafferty Park,” and how are you involved? 

Friends of Lafferty Park (FLP) is an all-volunteer community advocacy group centered in Petaluma and its surrounding areas. Originally its purpose was to encourage the City of Petaluma to keep Lafferty, that is, to not privatize it via sale as was proposed in the 1990s, and then to open it for appropriate public access. I have been in the leadership of Friends of Lafferty Park and its predecessors since the early 1990s.

Friends of Lafferty Park, along with Landpaths, is currently working with the City of Petaluma to open Lafferty Ranch as a wildland park or open space preserve with public access modeled after the best practices in the region, such as Marin County’s open space lands. 

How did Landpaths become involved? 

The City of Petaluma has contracted with LandPaths to lead the community through a program of limited public access to the Lafferty Ranch property.  This limited public access is expected to lead to full public access in the future, following environmental studies and (minimal) infrastructure. LandPaths is the ideal partner, with extensive experience organizing such programs throughout the region, excellent outreach to underserved communities, and a sterling reputation in our County.

For what purpose did you attend SMP board meetings in the 1990s and early 2000s?  

Bill Kortum and I reported developments regarding Lafferty Ranch and other news from the Petaluma side of the mountain. We also advocated for parks, trails, and public open space throughout the mountain. In the early 2000s, SMP was working to influence several important Sonoma County planning documents, including the Outdoor Recreation Plan, the General Plan, and the Agriculture & Open Space Acquisition Plan.

What would you say to those who are against opening Lafferty Park to the public?

We’re ready to be good neighbors!  Plenty of landowners elsewhere in the region have come to regard well-managed public open spaces as ideal neighbors, benefitting both the environment and property values.  

There is also a significant cost to leaving wildlands like Lafferty unused. Twice in recent years, we have had to clean up illegal marijuana grows on that property and their devastating pollution of creeks and wetlands. Those will not happen once hikers are enjoying the property regularly. 

Historically, SMP has been largely focused on the east side of the mountain, as that is where is was founded; how do you see SMP becoming more involved in the west side of the mountain?

Petaluma’s relationship with Sonoma Mountain has been less intimate in recent decades than that of the Sonoma Valley. I believe that is because the Petaluma side of the mountain has been almost entirely privatized. Opening Lafferty Ranch to the public will begin to reestablish a sense of connection and stewardship. 

SMP has always supported Petaluma’s efforts to keep and open Lafferty Ranch. I hope to be a gentle voice of encouragement within SMP to support additional parks, trails, preserves, and public access on all of Sonoma Mountain, including the Petaluma side.

Do you have a favorite memory or story about Sonoma Mountain? 

How about an inspirational quote?  I’ve been sharing this one on recent outings: 

   So, if there is any central and commanding hilltop, it should be reserved for the public use.  
   … That area should be left unappropriated for modesty and reverence’s sake—if only to suggest that the traveller who climbs thither in a degree rises above himself, as well as his native valley, and leaves some of his grovelling habits behind.
    … I think that each town should have a park, or rather a primitive forest, of five hundred or a thousand acres, either in one body or several—a common possession forever, for instruction and recreation.

    — From “Wild Fruits” by Henry David Thoreau

Interview conducted by Soneile Hymn. This interview has been edited for clarity and readability.

Sep 022022

The Life and Times of Nancy Evers Kirwan

This is the second of a series of monthly interviews we are conducting with the Sonoma Mountain Preservation board members. 

Nancy Evers Kirwan is a native of the Bay Area. She currently lives at the base of Sonoma Mountain on property owned by her family since 1956. After studying attending UC Santa Cruz and then law at Hastings, Nancy practiced law in San Francisco for ten years. She then moved to Los Angeles for 35 years, where she attended UCLA and worked as a landscape architect for 35 years while volunteering her time in programs that support hospitalized and at-risk kids. Finally, she returned to her childhood property at the foot of Sonoma Mountain, determined to be active in the environmental arena. She joined the SMP board at the request of Pat Eliot toward the end of her life. Nancy currently serves as board secretary and does outreach. 

What is your relationship with Sonoma Mountain?

My family has had property at the base of Sonoma Mountain since 1956, which they bought from the Van Hoosears of the Van Hoosear Wildflower Preserve. My parents built a house there, which was finished in 1960. That’s where I live now. 

I was nine when the house was finished. We spent summers and most weekends away from the city in our Sonoma refuge. Sonoma Mountain was always my escape valve. My contact with the natural world. My place to dream and imagine. Climb trees, run in the field, ride up over the mountain. It made me who I am. It gave me independence. 

What drew you to join the SMP board? 

I became a member of Sonoma Mountain Preservation because Pat Eliot asked me to. Pat Eliot was a good friend of my mother’s, and later to me. She had been extraordinarily nice to my mother as she was dying, a favor that can never be repaid. So, I attended a meeting or two, and then I was voted in. 

What do you do for Sonoma Mountain Preservation?

I am the board secretary and part of the Outreach Committee. I’m interested in expanding our base of operation to be more inclusive of younger people, people from various backgrounds and with different points of view.  

I am also in charge of our booth at the annual Glen Ellen Village Fair, and I have been active in the SDC battle: making reports, writing letters, attending meetings, and making comments. 

What other Community Organizations and projects do you work on? 

I am on the Board of Sonoma Plein Air and the volunteer coordinator for the Plein Air Art Festival. I am on the Advisory Boards of the Garden Park and Jack London Historic Park, and I am Secretary of the board of the Grove Street Fire Safe Council. And I am also a Steward of the Sonoma Overlook Trail and on the Leadership Council/Circle for the Sonoma Ecology Center. I get around and I love what I do. 

What do you do when you aren’t working with the organizations? 

I work in my garden, cook delicious meals, hike, play pickleball, read, and walk with friends. We used to fish a lot, but that has been fewer and farther apart recently due to a number of factors. 

What would you like to see in the future for Sonoma Mountain? 

I would like to see the majority of the Mountain as protected open space with numerous access points and a fair number of trails without formal public control. Like the walking trails in England and Europe. It would be good if it were a link in the Bay Area Ridge Trail. 

What are your best memories of Sonoma Mountain? 

My favorite recent memories of Sonoma Mountain are the New Year’s Day hikes that we do at SMP, to greet the new year.

As a girl, I used to ride up through the George Ranch and the Anderson Ranch to the top of the ridge and look down on Petaluma. Unfortunately, that is no longer possible. As an adult, we bushwhacked into the falls. They are wonderfully impressive. 

Truly, growing up with trees to climb, the mountain to explore, and fields to play in was a significant factor in my decision to follow my heart and leave law and go into landscape architecture. 

Interview conducted by Soneile Hymn. This interview has been edited for clarity and readability.

Aug 032022

Getting to know Tracy Salcedo, SMP Board

This is the first of a series of monthly interviews we are conducting with the Sonoma Mountain Preservation board members. 

Tracy Salcedo lives on the skirts of Sonoma Mountain in Glen Ellen and is the author of more than 25 guidebooks to destinations in California and Colorado; mountains are Tracy’s inspiration. She wrote the chapter on recreation for SMP’s beautiful book Where the World Begins, Sonoma Mountain Stories and ImagesTracy Salcedo is a little bit new and a little bit old on the SMP board. She first joined in 2000 but took a hiatus due to the extra work of family life, rejoining in 2020. Besides being a board member and writer, she is also an editor and librarian. She holds a degree in Anthropology from UC Berkeley. 

You have obviously been around considering all the books you have written. Where are you from and how did you end up in Glen Ellen?

I was born in San Francisco and raised partly in Daly City, partly in Fairfax in Marin County. Then, I lived in Colorado for 15 years after finishing college at UC Berkeley. When my kids were very young, we decided to move back to California to be with family, all of whom live in Marin. We couldn’t afford anything there, so we settled in Glen Ellen — which turned out to be the perfect place for us.

What drew you to join the SMP board? 

I had started volunteering for land conservation nonprofits while living in Colorado (PlanJeffco and the Mountain Area Land Trust) and wanted to continue to support open space preservation upon our return to California. I started as a volunteer with the Marin Agricultural Land Trust but wanted to bring it closer to home in Glen Ellen since I had a young family at the time. So I looked in my backyard. I found SMP through friends who knew the Ellmans and the Eliots.

What were the earlier days of SMP like?

The board is a lot like it is now — the meeting of like-minded people with a passion for preserving as much as they can of wildland and open spaces in the area. Back in the early 2000s, the group was focused on linking parcels along Sonoma Mountain’s ridgeline, including the McCrea property, and providing public access via extending the Ridge Trail. The idea was to bring people onto the mountain and help ensure her integrity as a valley backdrop and icon. I was welcomed on the board but, as I was a busy parent, couldn’t contribute nearly as much as I wanted; the heavy lifting and the political and bureaucratic work was done by the Eliots, the Ellmans, Helen, Mickey, and Marilyn. They were the movers and shakers.

How are things different at SMP, more than two decades after you first joined? 

Things are obviously different, given the changing of the guard, but they are also the same. Board members today are just as dedicated to the mountain as they were twenty years ago. However, they face different challenges and have cultivated new connections. They’ve been welcoming board members from the other side of the mountain, like Petaluma and Penngrove. SMP is also building educational components. 

What are your main focuses in SMP right now? 

My current focus is on the SDC — making sure the open space, both on the mountain itself as well as across Arnold Drive (Lake Suttonfield) is fully and permanently protected, and then (hopefully) ensuring the development of the campus doesn’t mess with the quality of that preservation.

What is your most memorable story about being on the SMP Board?

We held a summit meeting on a property at the mountain’s summit a few years back. It was the first time I’d ever been to the top; being a resident of Glen Ellen, I’d always approached from the other side, where fences keep you off the top. I knew I was in the right place — I had found my tribe in many ways during that summit, but the moment it crystalized was when board member Kim Batchelder led us to the pile of rocks that marks the high point and assured us that he’d banged around on them to let the rattlesnakes know that we were coming.

Do you have a good story about Sonoma Mountain?

Ha! Yeah, I’ve got lots of stories, but the one that springs to mind is when I fell on a steep trail linking Jack London SHP to the SDC and broke my ankle. I walk all over that side of the mountain all the time, sometimes fully present, sometimes thoughtlessly, sometimes preoccupied, but most often all of the above. The mountain took me down a notch that day, thankfully. She reminded me to pay attention, that every footfall is important.

What books are you most proud of? Which books were the most fun to create?

I am most proud of my guidebook to Lassen Volcanic National Park. It was my first “big” guide — I researched and wrote the first edition shortly after we returned to California in the late 1990s. I have learned so much by revisiting the park again and again over the years. Lassen Volcanic has given me a great gift: The National Outdoor Book Award, which I won for the third edition in 2020. It’s hard to explain, but it felt reciprocal, like somehow the park was telling me she loves me as much as I love her.

As far as what I’m finding most fun to create, writing essays about experiences in the parks are a ton of fun. I’m getting a lot of satisfaction from not only writing about how to get to incredible places, but also ways people might experience those places more completely, whether through cultural history, natural history, or personal narrative. Creative nonfiction has become my storytelling vehicle of choice.

What do you love the most about Sonoma Mountain?

I love that she’s here. I love her mass, her variety, her accessibility. She’s the foundation for what I call home, and I am grateful to be able to give back in any small way.

Interview conducted by Soneile Hymn. This interview has been edited for clarity and readability.

Jul 062022

Winners Announced for Sonoma Mountain Photo Contest! #SonomaMountainPhotoContest

Congratulations to the winners of our first Sonoma Mountain Photo Contest. Our theme was “A Sense of Place.” We had a great time viewing all your beautiful and proud images of Sonoma Mountain. Our first-place winner is the gorgeous “View of Carriger Creek Watershed” taken by Eric Hongisto of Penngrove. You can see two more images of his in the finalists’ gallery below. His pictures of Sonoma Mountain capture the wonder of its perennial creeks, forests, and ancient volcanic formations along the Rogers Creek Fault. Eric is an art professor at the University of San Francisco. You can see more of his work at

Click on any image to view full size.

Our second-place winner is Vickie Wilde with her photograph "Misty Mountain." She lives part-time in Petaluma and part-time in Montecito. "Sonoma Mountain is a place where there is ever changing wonder and delight, where I'm fortunate to call home," she wrote to us. "The photo was shot on a sunny, bright, warm day in downtown Petaluma, but as I was driving up Sonoma Mountain, a cloud had settled on the mountain top creating a mystic scene in which I could not resist shooting a photo through the windshield of my car." 

This leaping hare, captured by Leo Merle, takes third place. It was taken on top of Grove Street, Sonoma Mountain, where he has lived since 1976. He calls it, “I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date.” Leo was a freelance editorial photographer in San Francisco with cover credits in numerous popular publications. He continues to capture beautiful images to share with friends, neighbors, and colleagues in Sonoma and beyond. His photography is on permanent display his office at 470 First Street East, Sonoma.

We had a lot of great images to choose from and are excited to share all the finalist images for all to enjoy some of the wonders of the mountain. Below are the other seven images that made it to the finalist list.

Apr 252022

Creating the North Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail

by Kim Batchelder, Natural Resources Planner, Sonoma County Ag + Open Space

“My first assignment for Sonoma Ag + Open Space was to develop the North Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail. I remember visiting a small redwood grove on Jacobs Ranch – the proposed launching site for this magnificent trail—and just feeling exuberant about the idea of creating a path across such a spectacular landscape.”

Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District (Ag + Open Space) has a diverse and multi-faceted mission. This mission includes the protection of scenic corridors, watersheds, greenbelts, agricultural lands and recreation. However, this mission would be impossible to complete in isolation. So Ag + Open Space has a long history of partnership with local and state partners and agencies that manage our parks and preserves. One project that highlights this collaborative effort is the North Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail (“North Sonoma Mountain Trail”). Starting back in March 2005, Ag + Open Space embarked on the construction of a trail from Jacobs Ranch, off of Sonoma Mountain Road in Bennett Valley, to Jack London State Historic Park.

The vision for the trail had its genesis in two innovative efforts that had begun fifteen years before. In 1990, Sonoma County voters approved one of the first “public land trusts” in the United States to protect agricultural and open space lands through a quarter-cent sales tax. Since then, Ag + Open Space –that “public land trust” – has protected over 118,000 acres, including almost 3,750 acres on and around Sonoma Mountain. In 1992, the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council was formed with the ambitious vision of creating a 550-mile path along the ridge tops around San Francisco Bay. Today there are over 375 miles of dedicated Ridge Trail throughout the Bay Area.

The North Sonoma Mountain Trail got its start in 2003 when Ag + Open Space purchased the 168-acre Jacobs Ranch.

Over the next two years, the agency acquired the 47-acre Skiles Ranch and 226- acre Cooper’s Grove. Other critical pieces to the puzzle were an 11-acre property donated by the Roth Family (who also gave the land for Fairfield Osborn Preserve) and the 84-acre Sonoma Mountain Woodlands parcel, originally given to Regional Parks to mitigate the impacts of a nearby subdivision. Finally, all the pieces were assembled for a trail that could gently climb from Jacobs Ranch for nearly five miles along the north slope to a high point near the top of the mountain.

In 2005, the California State Coastal Conservancy approved a planning grant to help Ag + Open Space plan the trail. A technical Advisory Committee was formed that included the landowners, Ag + Open Space, Regional and State Parks, and the project’s funders–the Coastal Conservancy and Bay Area Ridge Trail Council. Financial and technical resources were pooled to bring in top trail designers with decades of experience. These included Don Beers of State Parks, Steve Ehret from Regional Parks, and Ridge Trail Steward John Aranson. Each of these individuals, agencies and organizations contributed to quality control and oversight—assisting Ag + Open Space in working through the design, environmental review and permitting processes. Under their guidance, an optimal trail alignment was laid out and features were established at the trailhead to meet the needs of equestrians, pedestrians, and cyclists

A groundbreaking event took place on June 20, 2010 when construction of the North Sonoma Mountain Trail began at Jack London State Park. Simultaneously the acquisition of Sonoma Mountain’s summit with the purchase of the 283-acre Sonoma Mountain Ranch was celebrated. This completed the footprint for the 820- acre North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve. It took another two and a half years to finish trail construction, trailhead development, access road improvements, and signage to complete the entire 4.5 mile trail. Another 1.4 miles, called the East Slope Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail, were added in 2014, south of the state park. The East Slope Trail offers panoramic views of the Mayacamas Mountains and Sonoma Valley, as well as San Pablo Bay and Mt. Diablo to the south and east.

Ag + Open Space learned many lessons in reaching these ambitious trail goals. Most impressive was the collaboration of so many partners, neighbors, and volunteers. Not-for-profit groups such as LandPaths and Sonoma County Trails Council engaged people and rallied supporters to provide input for features that could be offered to the public. Government agencies secured matching financial resources to contribute to construction costs on State Park land, and neighbors provided access for construction equipment and materials to remote trail sections.

The partners who envisioned and built this trail faced many challenges. Yet persistence, a long-term vision and committed collaboration among partners, advocates and funders resulted in an amazing trail that is thoroughly enjoyed by Sonoma County residents and tourists alike.

[Reprinted from Sonoma Mountain Journal Vol.19, Number1.]

Click the image of the map for the PDF.
Nov 122020

Glen Ellen and Eldridge/SDC Are Inseparable: 
This Reality Needs to Be Reflected in The SDC Specific Plan

This clear and impassioned description of the relationship between Glen Ellen and Eldridge/SDC was written by Tracey Salcedo, Glen Ellen resident and member of the Leadership Team of the SDC Coalition. As work on the SDC Specific Plan continues, SMP supports this view.

After a long lull, the specific planning process for the former Sonoma Development 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 would be 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. 

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 of about 700 households at its center, and more within the sprawling 95442 zip code.
  • This language comes from the Land Use element of Sonoma County’s General Plan: Glen Ellen is a small village along Arnold Drive west of State Highway 12 … About 70 percent of the community is rural with rural residential and agricultural zoning.
  • From the Glen Ellen Development and Design Guidelines: The small town character of Glen Ellen promotes a sense of community and an inherent openness which recognizes personal freedoms and varied lifestyles. The maintenance and enhancement of this small town character is of utmost importance to its residents.
  • 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 the Eldridge campus homes are closer together, but the mood is the same. It’s still country living. Whether you live in the apartments on Madrone or tucked in the woods on London Ranch Road, you live in a small town. You know the people in line with you at the grocery store. You meet up with neighbors to take a walk in the park or along the winding country roads. Your kids go to school and play sports with the neighbor kids, while you volunteer with the neighbors in classrooms or visit on the sidelines. You dance in the streets with your neighbors every October during the village fair.
  • A growing number of second home owners have purchased in Glen Ellen for the same reason full-time residents do—because it is rural, charming, and friendly. These part-time residents boost the economy of Sonoma Valley when they’re in town, while their absences add to the quiet of village life.

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. Bring on housing for the developmentally disabled. Bring on community gardens and biodiverse agriculture. Bring on post-petroleum technologies. Bring on sustainable businesses. Bring on an “institute” that researches and implements principles of resiliency. Bring on visiting scholars. Bring on innovation.

But bring it on at a scale that both fits and benefits the village that already exists, on both sides of SDC. Bring it on recognizing that the existing village already embraces and lives by these ideals. Bring it on at a scale that ensures the children of local residents, as well as the greater community, can find their place here. 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 some committee members 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. The Eldridge Enterprise, developed by a “working group” of the SDC Coalition, is a troubling exception, especially as it begins recruiting endorsements. It is not community-driven. 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

“Eldridge is a place where people of diverse backgrounds and interests live and work together, where natural resources are conserved and enhanced, concepts of sustainability and resiliency are put into practice, cultural legacies are honored, and compatibility with surrounding communities is preserved.

—Vision Statement Developed for Community Consideration at the Hanna Workshop, June 2019

As we’ve had to circle up, yet again, to create a vision for the site, I feel like we, as representatives from Glen Ellen, are now outside the process. We are forced to be reactive to proposals developed outside the process, rather than proactive in helping develop proposals. In light of recent developments, I have to ask: What does community-driven mean? To me, it means that no matter where proposals originate, whether in the city of Sonoma, or Oakmont, or Santa Rosa, or the hills of Healdsburg, they reflect not only the desires of their proponents, but also an understanding of what is fundamental: Glen Ellen and Eldridge are inseparable. What happens to Eldridge happens to Glen Ellen.

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.

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Feb 072020

Heart full of trails, head full of leave no trace

By Tracy Salcedo

I am an outlaw. A trespasser.

And worse, I’m a repeat offender, in cahoots with other scofflaws like myself. Many of us here in Glen Ellen – heck, throughout Sonoma Valley – are members of a gang that regularly, without malice and pretty much without thinking, trespass on Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) property. We’ve been doing it for decades.

In our defense, it’s hard to avoid. Formal trails in Sonoma Valley Regional Park and Jack London State Historic Park merge seamlessly onto Eldridge’s web of informal trails. I was introduced to some favorite paths by friends and neighbors; some I just tripped onto while wandering, because… well, I love exploring in the woods. Hence my vocation: hiking guidebook writer. Go figure.

Also in our defense, it’s not like California’s Department of Developmental Services (DDS) has been overzealous about enforcing its no trespassing rule – to its credit. The people working for DDS understood that the open spaces so critical to the health of SDC residents were also critical to the health of their neighbors. There was a posse for a time, comprised of good-hearted, civic-minded folk who asked walkers to put their dogs back on leashes and kids to stay out of the reservoirs (fishing and swimming are also prohibited). But as activity at SDC waned, the posse disappeared. Without those gentle reminders (and the threat of citation), dogs have come off their leashes, and some swimmers and anglers have as well.

Here’s my conundrum: As a guidebook writer and a passionate outdoorswoman, I’m pretty religious about doing right by the wildlands I love. I only write about legal trails, because I have seen firsthand the damage wrought by social trails – the informal paths people carve into landscapes because they want to take a shortcut. I don’t litter. I pick up other people’s litter. I don’t collect artifacts from the places I go. I don’t walk or ride on mucky trails after rainstorms. So I have a hard time reconciling the notion that I’ve been trespassing in Eldridge for the past twenty-plus years. I also understand why the recent letter from California’s Department of General Services (DGS) caused such consternation and confusion.

That said, I also get DGS’s motivations: reducing liability, keeping people safe, ensuring protection of the property’s natural and man-made resources. The huge question of which trails are, and should remain, open around Lake Suttonfield and Fern Lake must be negotiated with the understanding that both access and the wildlands can be wisely and properly conserved. This will take time.

But I can do something, right now, to help. I’ve incorporated boilerplate language in each of my guides designed to help all trail users do right by the open spaces they love, like Eldridge. Because it’s not just about accessibility. It’s also about place.

These guidelines are born of a simple philosophy: Leave no trace. You can visit for more information, but here are the basics:

Pack out all your own trash, including biodegradable items like orange peels. Take it a step further by packing out garbage left by less-considerate hikers. Stuff it in a pocket, in your pack, in your hiking partner’s pack. Litter has no place in open space.

Protect wildlife, your pet’s life, and fellow trail users by keeping dogs on leash at all times. Take responsibility for your dog’s behavior. And remember, your dog’s poop is not welcome anywhere, so pick it up and carry it out.

Leave wildflowers, rocks, antlers, feathers, and other treasures where you find them. Removing these items degrades natural values and takes away from the next explorer’s experience.

Remain on established routes to avoid damaging soils, tiny creatures, and flora. This is also a good rule of thumb for avoiding poison oak and stinging nettle, common regional trailside irritants.

Don’t cut switchbacks; this promotes erosion and creates ugly scars on the landscape.

Sound travels easily in the backcountry, especially across water, so avoid making loud noises. Make sure your cell phone is on mute, and use it only in case of emergency. If you must listen to music, conduct business, or help solve your best friend’s romantic issues while on the trail, speak softly and use ear buds, not the speaker function.

Many trails are multiuse, which means you’ll share them with other hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers, and equestrians. Generally, hikers yield to equestrians, and mountain bikers yield to all trail users. If you are hiking in a group and encounter other hikers on a narrow trail, whether passing or coming in the opposite direction, proceed in single file. Generally, the uphill hiker has the right-of-way. But common sense should prevail in all trail user encounters. Talk to each other, and share responsibly.

Use outhouses at trailheads. If nature calls while you’re on the trail, pack your poop and your toilet paper out like you would pack out your dog’s waste. You can also carry a lightweight trowel to bury human waste 6–8 inches deep and at least 200 feet from any water source.

Don’t approach or feed any wild creatures. Honestly, they are avoiding you. That cute squirrel eyeing your snack food is best able to survive if it sticks to acorns. The rattlesnake knows you’re too big to waste its venom on; heed its warning, keep your distance, and it won’t bite. The mountain lion has tastier things to eat, so should you meet one on the trail, talk to it, make yourself bigger, and back away slowly. Running makes you look like prey.

If we leave no trace, we do no harm. On any trail, permitted or not, we have the power and obligation to set the example. Perhaps others will follow, and maybe, eventually, no one will leave a trace. We may be trespassers on Eldridge’s trails (for the time being), but instead of a gang of scofflaws, we can be a gang of stewards.

Apr 062019

SDC 3-Year Agreement Between County and State

If you are interested in details of the agreement between the State and County regarding the SDC “hybrid” transition plans, the four documents below provide a fairly robust idea of what’s going to be happening.

The State has committed to $11-12 million/year for 3 years of maintenance. The County has committed to making a Specific Plan, changing zoning, doing Design Guidelines (see current Sonoma Mountain Design Guidelines at, and other planning measures. All monies spent by the County on this, up to $3.5 million, will be reimbursed by the State.

Of note is that housing will definitely be part of the developed footprint mix.

Also of note going forward (though not part of the documents), is that SMP has been a part of the SDC Land Committee for several years. There is a strong collaborative vision for what should happen on the 745 acres of open space. On the 200 acres of the developed “footprint,” we have suggested creek setbacks, wildlife corridor protections, and other ecologically sustainable measures.

SDC Summary SDC Summary

Attachment A Budgetary Resolution Attachment A Budgetary Resolution

Attachment B Resolution Regarding Land Use Planning and Disposition of the SDC Site Attachment B Resolution Regarding Land Use Planning and Disposition of the SDC Site

Attachment C SDC Transition Proposal Attachment C SDC Transition Proposal

posted  4.5.19

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Apr 022019

SDC Agreement—Woo Hoo!

Legislators Announce Tentative Agreement on Sonoma Development Center 4/2/19

ELDRIDGE – Senators Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, Bill Dodd, D-Napa, and Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters, announced today a tentative agreement on the Sonoma Development Center that will empower neighbors, the community, and the County of Sonoma to conduct a comprehensive community planning process focused on the potential future uses of the Sonoma Developmental Center, while also protecting the sacred open spaces of the undeveloped land.

The framework is the result of a three-and-a-half-year collaborative process between the Sonoma County Legislative Delegation, state agencies, and local stakeholders led by the county.

“This plan ensures a community-driven approach to the reuse of the core campus while preserving undeveloped land as public parkland and open space,” said Sen. Dodd. “I want to thank Senator McGuire, Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry, the governor’s team and our local partners for all their work to get to this point. We need to leave future generations a vibrant, sustainable world, and this property should come to reflect that vision.”

“We have always committed to an open, transparent and community-driven process on the future of the Sonoma Developmental Center, and this plan will do just that,” Sen. McGuire said. “We are grateful for the partnership of Senator Dodd, Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry, the County of Sonoma and the Governor’s Office for the collaborative first-of-its-kind approach for the future of this sacred site.”

“I am proud of the many hours that Senator Dodd, Senator McGuire, the Administration, Sonoma County, and the community have put into making sure that the plan for the disposition of the Sonoma Developmental Center results in a safe, respectful, and beautiful property for the long term,” said Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry. “This agreement takes into account the importance of local engagement and County leadership in the development of the scoping plan.”

“The state, county, and community have worked hard to pull together this agreement, the first of its kind in the State of California.  We extend sincere thank yous to our state elected delegation, state agencies and the county to get us to this point.  But this is just the beginning of the process for the community to work together to develop a vision for the future of the Sonoma Development Center in recognition of its special place in our valley,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin.

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to hold a special hearing at 9:30 am this Friday, April 5 to hear from legislators and state agency representatives, including state General Services Director, Daniel Kim. The board is expected to vote at the hearing to direct staff to initiate the local planning process set forth in the agreement.

The deal outlines state funding for a county-managed specific plan land use process, including a robust community engagement process focused on transition and overall vision and related environmental review. During this time, which is expected to take a few years, the state will continue to control and operate the property. That includes all funding needs encompassing on-going maintenance, security, firefighting, landscaping and fire prevention. The agreement, which will be described in detail at Friday’s board meeting, will also outline the tentative plan to preserve the open space and woodlands as public parkland and wildlife habitat. This preservation of open space could include a future collaboration with state parks, regional parks, or a combination.

The Sonoma Developmental Center opened in 1891 as a state-run residential care facility dedicated to serving individuals with developmental disabilities. Located in Eldridge near the community of Glen Ellen, the property is comprised of a developed campus covering approximately 180 acres and approximately 700 acres of open space adjacent to the Sonoma Valley Regional Park and the Jack London State Historic Park.

In the October 2015 plan for the closure of the Sonoma Developmental Center, the Department of Developmental Services recognized the unique natural and historic resources of the property and acknowledged that it was not the intent of the state to follow the traditional state surplus property process. The Department of Developmental Services concluded residential operations at the Sonoma Developmental Center in December 2018 after relocating all residents to homes in the community.

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