May 052024

Court rejects the environmental study for the Sonoma Developmental Center land

We won!

In January 2023, SMP joined a coalition of community groups in a legal challenge against the County of Sonoma, which had just approved a massive redevelopment plan for the 180-acre campus of the Sonoma Developmental Center — a plan that threatened the viability of the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor, the integrity of the open space surrounding the campus, and the safety of people living in the wildland-urban interface at the foot of Sonoma Mountain.

We and our partners held that the environmental impact report (EIR) accompanying the SDC Specific Plan was deeply flawed and violated the mandates of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). On April 26, Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Bradford DeMeo agreed, sending both EIR and Specific Plan back to the county for revision.

County planners must now bring the EIR into compliance with CEQA — and revise the Specific Plan accordingly — before redevelopment of the site can proceed. Judge DeMeo didn’t pull punches on the deficiencies he (and we) saw in the county’s work. Among the items that must be rectified:

  • the number of housing units must have a cap;
  • clear and enforceable mitigations and a mitigation monitoring and reporting program must be included;
  • cumulative impacts of both the SDC redevelopment and the nearby Hanna Center project must be analyzed and mitigated;
  • the feasibility of the smaller, environmentally preferable Historical Preservation Alternative must be adequately studied and considered; and
  • wildfire evacuation studies and scenarios must meet CEQA standards.

While we celebrate the victory in court and thank Judge DeMeo for his thorough and meticulous work, this isn’t the end of the effort to ensure redevelopment of the SDC is right-sized and environmentally sound. The county could appeal the court’s decision. If planners and the board of supervisors chose, instead, to comply with the court order, then we, as community activists, must ensure we have a seat at the decision-making table. Our work here isn’t done … yet.

SMP is deeply grateful to its partners in Sonoma Community Advocates for a Liveable Environment (SCALE), which includes SMP, Valley of the Moon Alliance, Glen Ellen Historical Society, and Eldridge for All, and to Sonoma County Tomorrow, our co-petitioner. Together, we harnessed the expertise, resources, and goodwill of community activists from throughout Sonoma County and provided our celebrated CEQA attorney, Susan Brandt-Hawley, with the support and knowledge she needed to triumph in court.

We are also deeply grateful to our SMP community, which supported this effort financially and in spirit. 

With this win we have a reset. With your continued help and engagement, we can ensure redevelopment of the SDC is right-sized, and that we all — plant, animal, and human — continue to thrive on Sonoma Mountain’s evergreen skirts.