[Santa Barbara County] County Faces $25 Million in Main Jail Renovation Costs, Delayed Northern Branch Jail Project

Additional custody deputies may be needed to cover both facilities if overall inmate population doesn’t decrease

Blog note: this this article references a 2016-2017 grand jury report.

Work continues on the new North County Jail at the corner of Betteravia and Black roads in the Santa Maria Valley. The $111 million project has been plagued by delays. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

The new $111 million facility at 2301 Black Road will have 376 inmate beds, including 80 beds in a women’s wing and 32 beds in a mental health and medical wing.

The county received $80 million in state grant funding for the project but is on the hook for the operating costs, estimated at $19.3 million a year.

The estimated opening date has been delayed multiple times, now to late 2019, according to the Sheriff’s Department.

Construction originally was to be finished in November 2018, with the jail opening this spring.

The project was only 70 percent completed at that point, according to a county staff report, and the Board of Supervisors amended the construction management contract, with a new goal of finishing construction by the summer.

Since the project has been delayed, county supervisors have approved multiple contract amendments for project vendors, including one Tuesday for the construction inspection firm T.Y.R. Inc. of Ventura.

The increased cost of the T.Y.R. contract — about $200,000 — falls within the construction contingency budget, according to the county.

The Sheriff’s Department has been hiring staff, and the county has been contributing millions of dollars per year into an operations fund to get ready for the increased costs of operating the North County jail.

The existing Main Jail, at 4436 Calle Real near Santa Barbara, needs major renovation work in the range of $26 million, according to the county.

Jeff Frapwell of the County Executive Office told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that the renovations would be phased over several years, and would start once the new Northern Branch Jail opens so inmates can be moved around the work.

There is no official renovation plan yet nor funding identified for the project.

The county may need additional custody deputy staffing to cover both jails if the overall inmate population doesn’t decrease, according to a recent county budget report.

“While areas of the Main Jail are to be closed down with the opening of the new Northern Branch Jail, and impacted staff transferred to the new jail, a study by CGL consultants in 2015 indicated shift relief staffing would be needed at the Main Jail if the overall jail population did not decrease,” a Nov. 13 county staff report stated.

“An additional 20 to 30 positions at the jail may be necessary as a result of CGL recommendations and FY 2017-18 budget reductions. However, as part of the Sheriff’s Renew ’22 proposals, the sheriff will be looking at the feasibility of consolidating certain functions at the Main Jail to reduce staffing needs. We will also closely monitor the impacts of the new bail reform legislation, which will eliminate cash bail beginning October 2019, and could impact jail overcrowding.”

Several recent legislative changes have affected the custody population, such as Assembly Bill 109, which shifted to counties the responsibility for monitoring, tracking and incarcerating lower-level offenders previously bound for state prison.

The Main Jail has been habitually operating above its rated bed capacity, and unless the population drops dramatically, the South Coast facility will continue to house a majority of inmates, even once the new jail opens.

In 2018, there was an average population of 951 inmates in custody at the Main Jail, with 820 men and 131 women, Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said. As of Feb. 25, 72 percent of inmates were not fully sentenced (for every active case they have), and of those, about half are not eligible for bail, she said.

The county hopes to open the Northern Branch Jail in September, but there have been multiple delays, she said in a statement. 

“Building a jail is a complex process and requires the coordination of contractors, sub-contractors and state agencies to do inspections. A project of this scope is even more challenging in our county than it would be in a metropolitan area due to trade availability. Often times construction elements do not align and can cause delays to the final completion. We have also had weather delays and natural disasters which have had an impact. When you have one delay, it can cause a domino effect and lead to more delays. While these delays can be disappointing, they are not surprising,” she said. 

Overcrowding and deferred maintenance costs have been longtime issues at the Main Jail.

A 2016-2017 Civil Grand Jury report called it an “outdated and inadequate facility” that has for years had been operating at 120 percent of its rated capacity (of 819 beds).

“The (Board of Supervisors) has developed and implemented a plan to fund the North Jail operations,” the report noted. “However, the jury could find no concrete plan to fund the multimillion dollars needed for repairs and upgrades to the Main Jail.”

As the Northern Branch Jail nears completion, the county still has not identified a funding source for the Main Jail renovation work, which likely will include replacing old plumbing and sewer systems, and making the building compliant with seismic and Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

County supervisors may discuss the Main Jail renovations as part of the yearly budgeting process, with workshops scheduled for April.

There was an opportunity to build additional custody beds as part of the Northern Branch Jail complex, but in 2015, the Board of Supervisors decided not to build the Sheriff’s Treatment and Re-Entry facility.

The so-called STAR complex was a 228-bed facility at the Northern Branch Jail complex to house minimum-security inmates and people with mental health issues. It was estimated to cost $2 million in yearly operations, and the state had offered $39 million in grant funding for construction.

March 2, 2019


By Giana Magnoli