California Coastal Conservancy funds study to create climate hub at Sonoma Developmental Center

The California Coastal Conservancy on Thursday approved a $250,000 grant to explore an addition to the Sonoma Developmental Center redevelopment project that would invest in climate research and rehabilitation.

Doug Bosco, chairperson of the conservancy’s board, said it represented a “major change” to the project’s current $100 million redevelopment project, which is to sell the 945-acre property to a real estate developer and build up to 1,000 homes, potentially with a hotels and retail spaces.

“It’s a beautiful campus, it should be used for something that really enriches people,” Bosco said.

The grant directs the county’s planning department to develop a plan for adding a climate center to the project and establish financial partnerships that would help pay for it.

“Although real estate developers have proposed typical uses for the campus, the county would like to explore the possibility of dedicating a portion of the site to producing and demonstrating practical solutions for climate change adaptation,” according to the staff report on the grant.

The funding comes as part of a $500 million appropriation from the state legislature for the Coastal Conservancy to invest in resiliency projects in 2022-23 and 2023-24.

The proposed climate center would diversify the economy of the Sonoma Valley — which significantly employs low-paying hospitality and agriculture jobs — and bring in “innovators, inventors and investors” to be the “economic engine of the center,” according to the report.

“It would run the gamut” on climate innovation, Bosco said, who served as a member of the US House of Representatives between 1982 and 1990. Bosco has been chair of the state’s Coastal Conservancy for 17 years and an environmental advocate since the 1970s.

“Anyone who thinks that the world of climate change adaptation is going to be a poverty stricken world is wrong,” Bosco said. “Smart people and smart investors are getting into it fast. What we would like to do is have a place where there’s synergy among people similar to what happened with Silicon Valley.”

While other climate centers exist throughout the state, many focus research on a single topic, like agriculture or electric vehicles, Bosco said. The proposed climate center at the developmental center would be unique in seeking innovative solutions for a wider variety of issues related to climate change.

“It’s the future. There’s no two ways about it,” Bosco said. “No one knows climate change like Sonoma County.”

The draft environmental impact report for developmental center is to be finalized Sept. 23, with the final report to be released Oct. 17. The redevelopment plan is scheduled to go before the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors by the end of the year.

Contact Chase Hunter at [email protected] and follow @Chase_HunterB on Twitter.

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