SONOMA DEVELOPMENTAL CENTER
Repurposing a Special Place for Open Space and Affordable Housing
Since the late 1800s, California has operated a system of residential hospitals for people with severe developmental disabilities. In May 2015, Governor Jerry Brown announced plans to close the State’s four remaining developmental centers. The Sonoma Development Center (SDC) in Glen Ellen was first on the list for closure and closed in December, 2018. What makes SDC unique is the 9,000 acres of protected open space and parkland adjacent to the property. SDC is located on the eastern slope of Sonoma Mountain and the 200-acre campus along Arnold Drive is nestled in the middle of a much larger — and much wilder — 1,000-acre property that stretches from the oak woodlands along Highway 12 to redwood groves high up in Sonoma Mountain’s creek canyons.
SDC is situated in the heart of the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor, a narrow linkage of high-quality habitat that connects Point Reyes to the mountains of Napa and Lake Counties. The property is also the center of a large greenbelt between Sonoma and Glen Ellen that creates a natural, open landscape integral to the character of the valley and the ecological health of the North Bay. In 2019, legislation was passed that established a clear mandate and vision for SDC with two main goals: build affordable housing on the vacant campus and protect all the open space on the property forever as parkland. Sonoma County is preparing a reuse plan for the campus, and Sonoma Land Trust and our partners have made protection of the wildlife corridor a top conservation priority for the plan. When we secure SDC’s open space, we will also add the critical “missing piece” of a puzzle that connects Jack London State Historic Park and Sonoma Valley Regional Park, thereby opening abundant outdoor recreational opportunities for a landscape the size of many state and national parks.