The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voiced support for the idea to build more visitor accommodations at Jalama Beach County Park using the large mitigation fee paid by Miramar developer Rick Caruso.
The supervisors technically could direct staff to only pursue a project on county-owned coastal land, but they want to pursue using the $1.395 million fee at Jalama.
The mitigation fee came from negotiations with the California Coastal Commission over Caruso’s Miramar Beach Hotel and Bungalows project, and the money will be used for low-cost visitor accommodations in the coastal region.
County staff said the money most would likely go toward building five to seven new cabin or yurt structures and making improvements to showers, restrooms and the access road if this particular project moves forward, which the supervisors all liked. Staff members will present specific project proposals at a later meeting.
Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam called the mitigation fee “extortive and abusive” but conceded that Caruso had agreed to it.
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The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday also formalized the movement of funds to make up the matching amount for constructing a new North County Jail, but raised concerns again about coming up with the $17 million yearly operating cost once it opens in 2018.
The county received a $80 million state grant to help fund the $96 million, 376-bed jail, which will be built on property at Black and Betteravia roads just outside of Santa Maria.
The supervisors approved the related agreements with the state, which require the county to come up with the matching funds and annual operating costs, in January. On Tuesday, the board approved the specific money transfers for those funds, which are coming from Proposition 172 public safety funds, the strategic reserve, the capital outlay fund and the new jail operations fund.
The board has decided to put in a few million each year to the jail operations fund, but it’s already been swept clean from $3 million for construction matching funds.
The supervisors plan to put in another $3 million for the upcoming fiscal year, but want the pot to grow and help with operating the jail, not get swept for construction costs. The Sheriff’s Department plans to use about $900,000 from that pot to fund transitional costs, including hiring and training new custody deputies in the year before the jail opens.
The idea, according to Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf, was to keep building up the pot.
“We took (the $3 million) out for the match, so now we’ll put in another $3 million but it sounds to me that we’ll pull some out for transition costs,” she said. “We need to know that, and we’re just finding that out now. We just need a bigger picture of how this is all working.”
She made a formal request that a future agenda item discuss the funding issues for the jail in more detail, “before we continue to move the train down this track.”
The supervisors all asked for another discussion with staff to identify where the operating money would come from in more detail, whether it’s pursuing new revenues or cutting other programs. Staff members will give a report on the general fund jail operations account at a future meeting as well, at Wolf’s request.
With such a significant project, the board will legitimately have questions about this “even when it seems like a no brainer,” Adam said. “There are a lot of zeroes on the end of this.”