[San Diego County] Activists protest food quality, social-justice issues outside Kearny Mesa juvenile hall

Blog note: this article references a grand jury report.

The leaders of two community advocacy groups picketed outside the Kearny Mesa juvenile hall on Friday to protest the quality of food served inside. They asked county supervisors to come and eat one of the meals, but the invitation was not accepted.

Jared Moten of the National Action Network San Diego and Yusef Miller of the Council on American-Islamic Relations used the food issue to showcase what they see as a broader problem: a county Board of Supervisors that cares more about cutting costs than delivering public services.

“They promised to make county government cheaper, faster and better,” said Moten, senior pastor at Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church and leader of the local National Action Network civil rights group. “In doing so, they have cut many of the programs that were beneficial to the community, including the food program at juvenile hall.”

The San Diego Sheriff’s Department provides the meals served in juvenile detention facilities, which are operated by the Probation Department.

County spokesman Michael Workman disputed the advocates’ concerns. He said meals are planned at least one month in advance and feature a variety of entrees to prevent repetition. He also noted that the menus are approved by registered dietitians before they are implemented and they are evaluated every year.

“There are strict requirements in place regarding food service,” Workman wrote in an email.

The quality of food at juvenile hall was the subject of a grand jury report last year. When members of the citizens panel had lunch with detainees as part of an inspection of the Kearny Mesa facility, some jurors threw away their plates rather than eat the food.

“The lunch, which likely satisfied the mandate for nutritional adequacy, was far from appetizing,” the report stated. “As a result of the poor-tasting meal, many jurors discarded most of it.”

In its response to the grand jury, the county said it would work with the county Office of Education to create a culinary program at the East Mesa juvenile hall that would both improve the quality of food and teach children how to cook.

Workman said the county already has begun building a new kitchen at Kearny Mesa that will include a culinary program, and a state-of-the-art replacement facility is on the drawing board. He said the county spent $3.6 million on food at its juvenile halls last year, about $3.75 per meal — less than the $9.92 Riverside spends per meal and the $8.98 paid by San Bernardino County.

Beyond the food-quality issue, Moten presented a history of decisions he said shows the elected officials -- Supervisors Greg Cox, Bill Horn, Dianne Jacob and Ron Roberts, who have served together since the mid-1990s -- wrongly run the county more like a business rather than a public agency.

“The supervisors’ policies have resulted in tens of thousands of people, mostly poor and minorities, being harmed, and billions of dollars changing hands,” he said.

Specifically, Moten and Miller criticized the county’s Neighborhood Reinvestment Program, which provides each supervisor $2 million a year to distribute across the community as they see fit.

County officials defend the program as a way to support local charities and public agencies, but critics have called it a slush fund that enables supervisors to curry political favor and boost re-election opportunities.

September 7, 2018

The San Diego Union-Tribune

By Jeff McDonald

County: