State Sen. Jerry Hill’s latest attempt to secure state jail funding for San Mateo County’s new facility failed to nab even enough support to warrant a motion in its committee but the legislator vowed yesterday to keeping fighting.
“My experience in Sacramento is that you never say never,” said Hill, D-San Mateo. “There’s always an ability somehow, somewhere.”
Hill said he is working on another solution but declined to show his hand just yet.
The last jail funding effort was a gut-and-amend bill that would have relinquished state money declined by San Joaquin County to Monterey and Sonoma counties, allowed Colusa, Yuba and Sutter counties to collaborate on regional detention facilities for juveniles and — the piece crucial to Hill — prevent San Mateo County from being disqualified from funding simply because it has already broken ground on its new $165 million jail.
The now-defunct bill would not have moved San Mateo County ahead of other counties based on its shovel-readiness which was the crux of Hill’s previous bill which also failed to move from committee. However, late Wednesday night it fell flat in the Assembly Public Safety Committee.
Hill has led the charge, albeit unsuccessful so far, in Sacramento to secure the county money by contending the funds awarded to conceptual rather than actual jail plans elsewhere are simply collecting dust because they aren’t required to prove a need or site until 2017.
In 2008, the state awarded San Mateo County $100 million 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. The third round excludes San Mateo County because jail construction is already underway — the technicality Hill hoped to remedy with this week’s Senate Bill 611.
Regardless of the state subsidy, San Mateo County’s new 576-bed jail is expected to open in 2015. The county spent $17 million for land in Redwood City on which it will construct a three-story hybrid jail topped by 40 feet of unfinished space for future use if necessary. The price tag is estimated at roughly $165 million for construction and another $40 million annually in operations. The county expects to issue bonds and County Manager John Maltbie is expected to soon bring forward a financing plan.
On Tuesday, Sheriff Greg Munks will ask the Board of Supervisors to authorize his asking the state for $80 million in jail funding. While Hill believes the county will receive a conditional award, he also thinks the Department of Finance will disqualify it because the project is already underway.
Despite the jail appearing to be a reality, opponents like Redwood City Council candidate and activist James Han continue fighting both it and Hill’s attempts to secure state dollars. In a Sept. 11 letter to the committee Chair Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, Han said reimbursing the county for money it already spent without a state allocation first on the jail sets “a very bad precedent for state agencies and their funding methods.”
Han also questioned the gut-and-amend process which turned a public utilities bill about the Division of Ratepayer Advocates into a piece about jail funding.
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