Nov 082023
 

Walks and Talks on Sonoma Mountain

In October SMP hosted two walks in the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC), the beloved and beleaguered institution in Glen Ellen that’s slated to be sold to a developer whose current plans call for leveling much of what’s beautiful, historic, and unusual on the campus.

The first event, a reprise of SMP’s popular “History, Horticulture, and Future of the SDC” hike, was led by California Naturalist Carolyn Greene and featured an impromptu presentation by photographer Christian Pease, a former SDC employee and a leading member of the Eldridge Cemetery Memorial Committee. At the newly completed cemetery memorial, which overlooks the unmarked graves of nearly 2,000 SDC residents, Pease described the memorial’s components, the forgotten history that prompted its creation, and the political and administrative process that got the project done. The names of everyone buried in the cemetery have been etched in granite slabs on the ADA-accessible viewing platform, which can be reached via a short walk uphill from the campus via Orchard Road.

The second hike, “Fall Birds and Migratory Words on Sonoma Mountain,” was led by author, scientist, and avid bird-watcher Rebecca Lawton, who guided a half-dozen hardy participants through intermittent downpours to secret spots on the campus and along the trail to Fern Lake where the birds — in surprising numbers and variety — were hanging out. Among the species seen or heard were a tree-full of bushtits yelling “head’s up” as a Cooper’s hawk swooped overhead, a couple of ruby-crowned kinglets, more than a dozen dark-eyed juncos and lesser goldfinches, a few northern flickers, a Hutton’s vireo, a hermit thrush … two dozen species and seventy-four birds in all. Lawton also shared poetry with the soggy but happy participants, including a work by our national poet laureate Ada Limón, who was raised in Glen Ellen. You can read Lawton’s SDC-inspired poem, “The Night the County Supervisors Met to Sell the Mountain,” here.

A new slate of guided walks on the SDC and elsewhere on Sonoma Mountain is currently in the works. We’re hopeful these two wonderful guides will be back to lead again, and that they will be joined colleagues who can share their special connections to the mountain with fellow mountain lovers.


~ Tracy Salcedo, SMP vice chair and “sweep”

Participants at the memorial platform at Sonoma Developmental Center.
Participants at the memorial platform at Sonoma Developmental Center.
May 012023
 

Developer chosen for SDC campus

By Melissa Dowling and Tracy Salcedo
Originally published in the April 15th edition of Kenwood Press

California’s Department of General Services (DGS) has selected Rogal & Partners and The Grupe Company as buyers for the 180-acre developed campus of the former Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC)

The April 3 announcement comes three months after the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved a Specific Plan and environmental impact report (EIR) for the campus that allows for construction of at least 620 homes, more than 400,000 square feet of commercial space, and a resort hotel. The EIR currently faces a legal challenge contending it violates a number of provisions in the California Environmental Quality Act.

At least three groups submitted proposals for purchase of the campus, including a homegrown coalition, the Next 100 Years Plan, which envisioned retaining the property in public ownership via a special district. DGS, the state’s real estate branch, determined that the Grupe/Rogal team’s proposal “was most in keeping with the County’s plan for the site and has a track record of successfully delivering projects like this,” said Jennifer Iidapublic information officer with DGS.

Selection of a buyer initiates an exclusive negotiating agreement (ENA) process, which Iida explained is “an agreement between two parties that establishes processes and expectations for the sale of the property. It is just an initial step.” No firm timeline for the ENA has been established, Iida added, and the pending lawsuit against the county challenging the EIR “does not impact the timing or process” for the ENA.

“There will not be community outreach during the ENA process,” Iida noted. DGS also declined to provide a copy of the winning proposal until the purchase and sale agreement for the core campus is executed.

Selection of a buyer does not affect the anticipated transfer of approximately 750 acres of surrounding open space to California State Parks, Iida said. The state budget for fiscal 2023-2024 includes $3 million to enable that transfer.

The winning bidders

Rogal & Partners have either successfully redeveloped, or are in the process of redeveloping, two properties in the Napa Valley. A visit to the website www.rogal.net highlights the Carneros Inn project, which transformed “three separate and deteriorating properties” totaling 27 acres into a mixed-use resort hotel encompassing 96 hotel cottages, three restaurants, and 41 residences.

Napa Pipe, a redevelopment encompassing 168 acres along the Napa River, is also featured on the website. Yet to be built outs, Napa Pipe is described as “a compact, walkable, urban neighborhood, with great streets, parks and public amenities, expressly designed for the needs and desires of today’s smaller households of all ages and incomes.” Senior (150 units), affordable (190 units), and market-rate (755 units) housing is planned for the site, along with a hotel, restaurants, light industrial and office space, and a Costco.

The website states development of Carneros Inn and planning for Napa Pipe has included “substantial” and “unprecedented” community engagement and outreach.

The Grupe Company has developed “more than 12 master-planned communities [and] more than 50,000 homes in 35 cities nationwide,” according to its website (https://grupe.com), as well as “preserved wildlife habitat areas and open spaces” associated with those developments Current and past projects include single family subdivisions, apartments, and storage facilities in the East Bay, Sacramento, Lodi, and Nevada.

Keith Rogal of Rogal & Partners, responding to questions from the Kenwood Press via email, said, “We feel honored to have been chosen by DGS as the right team to take on such an important responsibility.” He noted that the SDC is an “extraordinary property, with so many exceptional attributes. We are thrilled by the opportunity to work with the community in protecting and preserving natural resources of the SDC, enhancing the landscape, and creating a built environment that can meet present and future County needs and goals.”

Asked what he believes compelled the state to chose the Grupe/Rogal proposal, Rogal said, “We don’t know which factors were at work in the State’s decision process, but our two companies have deep experience in complex, mixed-use projects, specifically in and around small city and rural settings. We understand and care passionately about sustainability, natural resource conservation, the design of parks and open spaces, and the creation of vibrant, walkable communities for persons of all ages and incomes.”

Looking to the future, Rogal explained that, “a top priority is to review with great care the many comments already provided by members of the community, through the Specific Plan process. We have also put up a website at www.SDC-community.com to provide a place for interested parties to get their thoughts to us directly, and/or just to let us know they’d like us to keep them informed as the process moves ahead.

Addressing a timeline, Rogal said, “from now through summer and on into the fall, we will be principally in an information-gathering mode, and community input is central to that foundational planning work.”

Asked if there are specific plans yet for the development, Rogal said, “Our plan is to implement the vision defined by the County in the SDC Specific Plan. At this early stage, we do not have additional detail above and beyond that which was created by the County planning process.”

County and community response

In a press release announcing the selection of the Grupe/Rogal partnership, First District Supervisor Susan Gorin said, “We’re deeply grateful for the state’s work on this and for naming a developer for this vital site in the heart of Sonoma Valley … We look forward to helping ensure the developer provides numerous opportunities to outreach and hear from the community to develop a project that reflects the qualities of Sonoma Valley while addressing the needs within the guidelines of the SDC specific plan.”

Sonoma County isn’t part of the sale process, noted Bradley Dunn, policy manager with Permit Sonoma, which is responsible for ensuring redevelopment complies with the Specific Plan.

Permit Sonoma may enter into a development agreement with the buyer once the sale is finalized, but because the developer “initiates a development agreement,” Dunn couldn’t comment on what that might entail “or the timeline for a hypothetical agreement.” If a development agreement is reached, however, Dunn said “it would require hearings with the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors. Both would include public participation.”

Teresa Murphy of the Glen Ellen Historical Society (GEHS) and a member of the Next 100 Years team, composed a letter to the editor expressing that group’s frustration with the outcome. “Hundreds of hours of testimony, meetings, and planning were based on the dream that this community could actually influence the outcome” of redevelopment of the SDC, she wrote. “The dream was dashed with the award by [DGS] to the Napa developer Rogal and Partners and the Grupe Company.”

Speaking only for himself, not as a representative of any organization, Bean Anderson, a community stakeholder affiliated with the GEHS and the Next 100 Years Plan, worried that selection of the Grupe/Rogal partnership threatens the integrity of the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor, which includes the campus. “Future zoning changes at the request of a large developer could easily destroy what little is left of the wildlife corridor,” he said.

Both Anderson and Murphy asserted the need for continued community advocacy for the campus and its retention as public land.

“The protection of the ecological, historic, and environmental integrity of the area depends upon the land being managed for the public good—by remaining in public hands or in a responsible trust. This should be our goal,” Anderson stated.

For details on the Specific Plan and the EIR, visit www.sdcspecificplan.com. For information on the lawsuit, visit the Sonoma Community Advocates for a Liveable Eldridge (SCALE) at scaledownsdc.org.

Tracy Salcedo is an award-winning writer based in Glen Ellen. She is a board member of Sonoma Mountain Preservation, which is part of SCALE.

Dec 042022
 

Reciprocity: Giving back to the Sonoma Developmental Center
by Tracy Salcedo

We want so much from this land. We want it to host a thousand homes, or half that many, or something between. We want it to support workspace for a thousand people, or more, or less. We want it to be a resort hotel. We want it to be a climate center. We want it to be an historic district. We want it to be a park. We want an agrihood, a community center, a maker space, a school, playing fields, a coffee shop …

We want, and we will take. It’s what we do. We have parceled out this piece of land and now we fight over how much we want and where we want it. It is not land; it is commodity. 

We want, and we will take, but what do we give in exchange? The land doesn’t take money. 

I’ve been reading a book called Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer, holder and teacher of Indigenous wisdom. A member of the Potawatomi Nation, she writes about reciprocity, about how the Potawatomi give back to the plants and animals that feed and sustain them. When they harvest, they harvest only what they need. When there isn’t enough, they don’t take. They choose with care and seek connection with the thing they need. They ask permission. They receive and then they reciprocate, sometimes planting, sometimes tending, sometimes with prayer. Sometimes they are simply grateful.

Reciprocity gives voice to the flower and the soil and the jackrabbit. Reciprocity asks us to acknowledge that they can be overused and abused. Reciprocity asks us to respect their rights, to leave them in peace, and to thank them for their gifts. Reciprocity acknowledges the give and take between people and all the others who share the planet we inhabit. “It is an odd dichotomy we have set for ourselves,” Kimmerer writes, “between loving people and loving land.”

So here we are, gifted with 180 acres of land that can — some say should — be developed, surrounded by 765 acres that can — some say should — become parkland, surrounded by a village that can — some say should — become urbanized, in a beautiful valley that everyone wants. We tug at this place with our desires and think only of how it can serve us. In our selfishness we are hurtful, and in our selfishness, we see that hurt as being inflicted only on ourselves, not on the land and all it nurtures. We don’t think about how this place is hitched to everything else in the universe.

What would it look like if we reciprocated at SDC? What would it look like if we abandoned the idea that this land’s future, and our own futures, are best decided by economic feasibility? What would it look like if we abandoned the idea that only by building more homes can we build more homes we can afford? What would it look like if we changed our politics and stopped calling each other names? What would it look like if we left behind the climate center, the historic district, the maker space, the coffee shop, the park?

What would it look like if, instead of needy and demanding, we were simply grateful? Would we temper our demands? Would we look with new appreciation at what is already here? Would we bring buckets of water to dampen the roots of thirsty trees? Would we sweep the sidewalks? Would we bring paint to the old buildings, to revive their tired walls, inside and out? Would we open the windows to let the fresh air in?

What would it look like? What would the land do? Everything and nothing, would be my guess. It would just be. It would continue to do the unappreciated things it does for us right now, in this moment. It would breathe for us, slow us down, let us sit and walk and play and just be ourselves, on it, with it, without judgement, without knowing us or labeling us or determining our value.

photo by Marc Longisto

And in this moment — a moment that stretches back to when a shovel first broke the earth to build a home, and stretches ahead to when someone drives a shovel into the earth and breaks it again — we can reciprocate. We can look closely at what we want and why we want it. We can be thankful; grateful. Then, maybe, instead of taking more, we will see a way to take nothing; to borrow only what is offered.

Tracy Salcedo is board member of SMP and an award-winning writer who lives and works in Glen Ellen. This essay originally appeared in the Kenwood Press.

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.

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 www.LNT.org 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.