By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Key decision makers are to gather Tuesday in Sacramento to discuss the future of the Sonoma Developmental Center, Sonoma Valley’s largest employer and home to nearly 500 severely disabled residents.
State Sen. Noreen Evans convened the meeting, which follows on the Jan. 13 release of a report by a state task force that called for dramatically downsizing all four of California’s developmental centers.
“This is really an opportunity for the legislative representatives to have some input,” said Evans, a Santa Rosa Democrat.
“There are a lot of issues identified about patient safety and we’re going to update on that,” she said.
Meeting participants will also review the task force’s recommendations — among them creating small, community-based care centers and crisis-intervention facilities to replace the current model of round-the-clock, care — “and see what the next steps are,” Evans said.
The future of the Sonoma center involves two central questions:
- What happens to its 460 residents, many of whom have spent most of their lives there?
- What is to become of the 1,553-acre, state-owned property? (600 acres were transferred to the state parks department in 2002.)
Evans said she expects to author spot legislation out of the meeting — essentially a placeholder to fill with legislative language to be established later.
Among those invited are Diana Dooley, secretary of the state Health and Human Services Agency; 1st District Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin, who represents Sonoma Valley; Santi Rogers, incoming director of the state Department of Developmental Services; Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael; and Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, whose district includes the Eldridge facility.
Representatives of the residents, who have had a long and often distrustful relationship with the developmental services department, said they would have liked to have been told about the meeting and perhaps invited.
“It would have been preferable,” said Kathleen Miller, president of the center’s Parent Hospital Association and a member of the task force. “I’m pleased that these people are meeting but I hope that they keep us in the loop.”
Teala Schaff, Evans’s spokeswoman, said that the meeting was for officials from “entities that report to the legislature.”
Miller, whose disabled son Dan Smith lives at the center, said representatives of some residents still hold out hope that it will be left as it is, but most have come to recognize that is unlikely.
“What the families want is very clear: we want to be left alone and have Sonoma Developmental Center left in its present form,” she said. “But those of us who have been paying attention know that is not going to happen.”
Asked if the center’s closure is a certainty, Evans said, “What’s really certain is that it will change in some way. That it will close is not entirely certain. I think there’s the potential to use the facilities in a different way.”
Gorin, who has worked closely with the Parent Hospital Association and others with vested interests in the outcome, including county health officials and environmental groups, said addressing residents’ needs is the more complex subject.
“It’s maybe clearer moving forward on the land and the potential of annexing the land,” she said about the facility’s future.
“The transformation of the developmental center is a lot more murky and I suspect it will take a number of years to get there,” she said. “We do not have places in the community to accommodate that many clients, especially given the fact that they have significant needs.”
You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or firstname.lastname@example.org.