Tuesday, November 13 , 2018, 7:28 pm | Fair 58º


Sheriff, Local Officials Stand United in Supporting Sales Tax for New Jail

Measure S supporters hold a news conference to discuss the need for the facility and funding

Backed by dozens of supporters lining the steps of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, Sheriff Bill Brown spoke Tuesday in favor of a new North County jail and the county sales tax measure — Measure S — that could help his vision become a reality.

For that to happen, voters would have to approve a November ballot measure for a half-cent sales tax. The proceeds from the tax not only would go toward jail construction, but also programs that target recidivism, and add front-line positions for fire and sheriff’s departments. The sales tax would coincide with the expiration of a legislated state sales tax. The measure would be implemented on July 1, and would represent a half-cent reduction from the current rate.

Judging by the impressive turnout of community leaders at Tuesday’s news conference, a solid number already have embraced Brown’s vision.

Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider kicked off the event, saying that enacting Measure S would increase public safety countywide. “It’s something that’s been needed for decades,” she said.

Schneider also highlighted the county’s diverse political landscape, one that she said has come together behind the new jail. That sentiment was confirmed by Santa Maria Mayor Larry Lavagnino.

“Santa Maria and Santa Barbara don’t always agree on everything,” Lavagnino said, “but we’re in agreement on Measure S.”

County Supervisors Janet Wolf and Joe Centeno also spoke out in support of the measure. Wolf said she traveled to Sacramento two years ago with Brown to request funding for a re-entry facility as well as a jail. The state approved the funding, and Wolf said now the county would be able to benefit from the $56 million grant from the state.

“If we do not pass Measure S this November, these funds may be lost,” Wolf said.

She said the county spends millions of dollars annually to expand the existing jail facilities, and Centeno highlighted the recidivism programs, as well as drug and alcohol treatment programs, that would come out of the funding.

“We really need to keep people out of jail, and this is the way to do it,” he said.

Brown was the last to speak Tuesday, and he touted everything from money the project would bring to the local construction industry to increased prisoner capacity.

“For more than three decades, Santa Barbara County has struggled with an overcrowded jail system,” said Brown, adding that throughout the jail’s history, much has been done to increase capacity, including adding on to existing jail facilities no less than seven times. “It’s simply not enough.”

Since 1986, the jail has been under a court-ordered population control, a fact Brown said has caused 1,700 to 1,800 inmates per year to be released early. About 80 percent of the criminals in the county jail are there for felony crimes.

“Unless a new jail is built, we will soon be forced into a position where we will only be able to house criminals for felony crimes,” he said. “This would pose a great danger to our community.”

As to the economics of the measure, $80 million in construction dollars would be spent in Santa Maria on the project, constituting what Brown called the largest public works project in county history.

Tuesday’s event was punctuated by yelling from community activist Kate Smith, who drove by the outdoor event twice, honking her horn and decrying supposed corruption in Santa Barbara County. Smith eventually was cited by Santa Barbara police officers for honking her horn repeatedly.

“It’s easy to be a critic; you saw one here earlier,” Brown said of Smith, adding that those with “extreme views” don’t want to see the measure passed. “I don’t believe they speak for the majority of people in this great county. Let’s collectively do something to solve the problems that jeopardize our safety.”

Perhaps not as organized as those in favor of the tax, opponents of the measure exist. Andy Caldwell of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture & Business, spoke against Measure S earlier Tuesday at the Board of Supervisors meeting. He chided supervisors for not putting money aside for a jail when county coffers were “flush with cash” a few years ago. He said his group is on record for that proposition, but was met with less than receptive attitude on the board dais.

“We were met with deafening silence,” he said. “Why is it your priority that the taxpayers have to fund 100 percent of the effort?”

The public will have the opportunity to hear representatives of both sides of the issue make their points on Sept. 15, when the Committee to Improve North County will host a Measure S forum. Supporters Rich Glaus, retired Santa Barbara deputy police chief, and Rick Roney, chairman of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Jail Overcrowding, will be debating with Caldwell.

The meeting and luncheon will begin at 11:45 a.m. at the Santa Maria Inn, 801 S. Broadway Ave. The cost of the luncheon is $20. For more information, call the Committee INC office at 805.922.4881 or Committee INC president Hugh Rafferty at 805.937.9334.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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