Board of Supervisors approves option two
The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors passed option two of the Main Jail Rehabilitation project 4-1Tuesday.
Following the class-action lawsuit filed by Disability Rights California, The Board of Supervisors moved forward with the comprehensive settlement by approving the project.
The board considered four options for the jail’s renovation, ranging in cost from $24.2 million to $67.1 million. The baseline renovations include deferred capital work estimated at more than $14 million.
Option one proposed an additional $6.16 million for improvements to programming space, mental health areas and cell improvements.
The board followed the staff recommendation of the Sheriff’s Office and passed option two. This project includes option one’s improvements with additional costs for an assessment of longer-term inmate housing and program space on the Main Jail campus or additional beds at the Northern Branch Jail. The estimated cost of this project is $24.9 million.
The board did not pass the project without push back.
“I submit to you that the Main Jail is a money pit,” Supervisor Das Williams, who cast the sole vote against the project, told the board.
Mr. Williams explained the cost of maintenance and utilities for the Main Jail currently amounts to around $1.6 million per year.
“It’s not just $24 million,” said Mr. Williams. “It’s $24 million plus this $1.6 (million) that will only increase as the facility continues to age.”
The utility of the Main Jail came into question, namely as the Santa Barbara jail population has reduced dramatically in the past year. While the population normally hovered around 1,000 inmates, the Sheriff’s Office reports the jail’s population is currently 632 people.
Some members of the board suggest this is the result of newly implemented criminal justice reforms.
“The initial decisions to divert low-level offenders is great. I just hope we continue to balance this as we move forward,” Supervisor Steve Lavagnino told the board. “This is 30 years of neglect. You can’t fix it in a year.”
Mr. Lavagnino and other board members noted the success of the criminal justice reform programs but also acknowledged the need for the Main Jail’s rehabilitation.
“Ultimately it comes down to: Do I want to invest in the main jail or do I want to invest in these programs?” Supervisor Joan Hartmann told the board. “I’d rather invest in these programs, but I need to be assured that will get us somewhere.”
Four of the five board members in time voiced their support of option 2.
“I’d much rather be spending these dollars on roads, buildings and parks,” Supervisor Bob Nelson said. “But this is necessary in county government … I am supportive of option 2.”
“The only ‘easy’ way out of this is just to build a new facility,” Mr. Lavagnino said. “Unfortunately, we can’t afford it. We’ve got to move forward with option 1 or option 2.”
The rehabilitation project and the diversion programs will be revisited in future board meetings.