In my drought- and fire-plagued home valley, 40 miles north of San Francisco, a debate has been simmering for decades over a massive development planned on state-owned property.
The conflict is focused on nearly 1,000 acres of rural and wildland in Sonoma Valley, California. The prime wine-country property has been eyed for development since long before 2018, when the state transitioned its last clients from the Sonoma Developmental Center, California’s oldest hospital for those with developmental disabilities.
What remains on the land are decaying historic buildings, an active fire department, a popular network of footpaths through oak and redwood forests, and the valley’s only two municipal drinking-water reservoirs.
Now the state, working with Sonoma County’s planning staff, proposes to transform the former center into a “vibrant, mixed-use community.” Its retail shops, offices and some 900 new housing units would augment the valley’s wineries, tourism, manufacturing and small businesses.
In a time and place of growing aridity, the proposal reads like a pipe dream.