SP voices objections to Todd Jail expansion, grant application approved
By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula News
Published: October 09, 2013
By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula Times
The Ventura County Board of Supervisors last week supported a $45-million request for Sheriff Geoff Dean to seek a state grant to build an addition to the Todd Road Jail, despite strong opposition from Santa Paulans who said they fear the city will be known as a “jail city.”
The supervisors’ unanimous decision allows Dean to apply for a grant to construct a one-story, 64-bed medical facility at the jail to house inmates with mental illness and chronic medical problems.
“It’s no different,” than those Dean told supervisors that have been housed at the main jail for the past 25 years.
Sixteen inmates presently are classified as mentally ill: “They’re not psychotic killers,” said Dean and those with medical problems such as broken legs do not require skilled nursing.
He added that the shift to Todd Road would provide enough space at the main jail to double the beds moved.
Dean said “I’m totally convinced we’ve been really, really good neighbors,” with an attractive facility that uses local services and provides services to the community such as free graffiti abatement along East Telegraph Road.
And, such as with the jails in Ventura and Thousand Oaks, Dean said, “Most people don’t even know there’s a jail out there.... “
If the state awards the grant, the county must come up with a matching sum of 10 percent, or about $4.5 million. The total cost is a bump of about $10 million since the project was first discussed due to what county officials said is reevaluated construction costs.
Dean told supervisors, “I have a constitutional mandate to provide safe and secure housing for those that the justice system deems shouldn’t be out in society and I truly believe that all of us have a moral obligation to take care of those in our custody.”
A prior jail grant offer was rejected by sheriffs throughout the state said Dean due to potential loss of control on who would be housed.
“Unless the county goes bankrupt,” Dean said the state couldn’t dictate any terms.
Marvin Beck said he was told by Santa Paula Police Chief Steve McLean that he fears parolees will decide to make Santa Paula their home.
Former Mayor Fred Robinson told supervisors, “In Santa Paula we do not want to be known as a place that incarcerates people,” but rather for its murals and other positives, “that makes Santa Paula a beautiful city.”
He also urged that alternative treatment programs for the mentally ill be created.
Other opponents of the resolution also cited concerns about Santa Paula’s image and the economic effects of the state deal.
“We struggle with an image issue,” said John Chamberlain, president of the Chamber of Commerce who noted the jail is a “great facility” but future potential expansion is troublesome; the chamber he added, is supporting the council in their opposition.
City Manager Jaime Fontes deferred his comment time to a video - P.O.V. with Kevin Hale, a Fox News broadcast - that addressed Gov. Brown and realignment of prisoners.
Michael Adams said the Santa Paula Economic Development Advisory Committee is concerned about outside perceptions of the city and supports the council “100 percent.”
“When I look at any project I look at the numbers and the sustainability,” and Santa Paula Councilman Jim Tovias noted that the cost of the facility expansion has increased by 25 percent and pencils out to about $700,000 a bed.
He noted operation costs and asked if the grant would have “an escape clause” or if “once in they’re in” and control is lost due to shifting elected representatives.
Tovias said he would suggest instead of a “band-aid approach” to bring in mental health professionals for a long-term solution to the problem.
After more remarks Supervisor Steve Bennett noted, “A number of representatives say they support the council,” but their comments have centered on “an image issue.... “
Tovias said image is a major issue and Bennett asked him to name any location now known as a “jail city.... “
“Not that I’m aware of,” but said Tovias, “we don’t want to be the first.”
County CEO Mike Powers noted several talking points and said the per-bed cost at a regular hospital is $1.5 million to $2 million.
“We are convinced this is the first step of many steps,” that Mayor Ralph Fernandez said eventually will maximize Todd Road Jail at the 2,304 beds it was approved for in the early 1990s.
“We oppose the jail location and will continue to oppose any further expansion at this location,” that Fernandez told supervisors would be inevitable.
“As a man in the trenches trying to attract developer investment,” rancher Bruce Dickenson said one of the first questions asked by developers is “what is your crime rate and where is your jail?”
Rita Stafford said the jail is “Not in the best interest of Santa Paula’s future.... “
Prior to realignment Dean said the county had 1,900 parolees, the same number as post realignment.
In addition, he said Santa Paula has a larger than average number of state parolees that lived in the city before they were incarcerated so there should not be concern such a population increased because of the jail.
Dean noted that the sheriff’s department works closely with the SPPD and provided services last year valued at more than $225,000.
“In fact,” said Dean, “two homicides ago we tracked down their suspect for them.... “
Dean noted the 48,220-square-foot expansion would provide a safer environment for the deputies as well as the approximately 850 inmates.
Bennett said he has “seen in public policy a fear can be put out there and people react to that stuff,” creating attention and “inappropriately shining a spotlight” on what they fear will be other people’s perceptions.
“Image is created by what you see yourself as,” said Supervisor Kathy Long.
Santa Paula has a history and reputation for being an engaged community with many attractions as well as other positives: “If you see yourself as the Heritage Valley and the mural city, you create that image,” she said. “An outsider doesn’t create it for you.”