An effort by Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, to secure state funding for San Mateo County’s replacement jail in Redwood City didn’t pass out of a key committee yesterday which leaves local officials without a hefty subsidy for the estimated $150 million facility.
Hill’s bill would have given San Mateo County preference because its project is shovel-ready rather than conceptual like many of the counties previously awarded funding. After the bill failed to gain a motion for vote in the Assembly Public Safety Committee yesterday, Hill chalked the defeat up to those counties feeling their money would be jeopardized by prioritizing ready counties like San Mateo. He said there may be future amendments that could make the idea more palatable and promised not to give up fighting.
Meanwhile, those opposing the jail under any conditions, like Redwood City Council candidate James Lee Han, hope the bill’s failure will stop construction in its tracks.
“It’s not just the social justice issues. It’s about being fiscally conservative,” Han said. “We should just cut our losses now.”
Han pointed to a civil grand jury report questioning the reality of San Mateo County’s structural deficit, saying the state’s resources should not be allocated to a county that cannot manage its funds more transparently.
Han also called Hill’s “gut and amend” repurposing of a pharmaceutical advertising bill into a mechanism for jail financing as a “secretive backdoor process” whose “creative maneuvering shows just how desperate they are to get funding.”
Hill, however, said the situation was a perfect case for gut and amend because circumstances changed between the February legislation deadline and now, particularly after San Joaquin County returned $80 million in jail money.
San Mateo County officials, and state legislators like Hill on its behalf, have struggled to receive state jail funding without undesirable requirements for years both before and after county supervisors approved the 576-bed correctional facility and spent $17 million for parcels on the former Chemical Way.
The county received $100 million in 2008 from a new facilities bill aimed at easing prison overcrowding but passed on the money because it refused the requirement to house state inmates.
The state revamped its funding requirements and issued another round of grants but San Mateo County was not even invited to apply because other counties had larger populations and inmate pools. A third round excludes San Mateo County because jail construction is already underway.
“It’s the wrong-headed approach. If you’re doing a good job you ought not to be punished,” Hill said.
The current law doesn’t require counties to show the state a need or available site until 2017 which Hill said leaves money collecting dust rather than being put to good use.
Regardless of state funding, the county is building a three-story hybrid jail topped by 40 feet of unfinished space. The price tag is estimated at roughly $165 million with another $40 million annually in operations.
The hefty cost without benefit of state funding leaves Han hopeful supervisors will throw in the towel and take a smaller loss now rather than a bigger debt later. Instead of spending millions on a local jail, Han said the state can use that money on services for all.
County Manager John Maltbie is expected to bring a jail financial plan forward this fall.
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