CHP cold on county law center

Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat

A new California Highway Patrol headquarters, a key element of the county's Law and Justice Center project, is no longer a given at the long-planned and hotly contested Wards Ferry Road complex.

County Administrator Craig Pedro said CHP officials are shopping for other land in the Sonora area and have told the county that the Law and Justice Center is not likely to be picked.

Pedro said it appears the CHP requires more space than the county can provide.

"These are decisions that are beyond our control," Pedro said. "That's something they've got to decide."

The CHP recently advertised it is looking to purchase property in the Sonora area to replace its current headquarters on Fifth Avenue in Jamestown. The ad stated that they are looking for vacant land with utilities on-site.

California Department of General Services spokeswoman Monica Hassan said the state is searching for properties to house multiple new CHP offices and can't disclose specifics on any one particular site. Hassan said specific sites will be announced when chosen.

Pedro said on Wednesday that the county's discussions with the CHP date back years, and he said he believes the Wards Ferry Road center would be a perfect spot. Should the CHP have used the site, the agency would have purchased the land and paid for the new facility. However, he and other county leaders say there are other options for the space if the CHP goes elsewhere. Possible uses include private attorney offices.

"I would be personally saddened if they don't," he said. "If it doesnt work out then what it will do is give us a chance to kind of re-look at that property."

The CHP headquarters were supposed to be part of multi-use center for law enforcement, corrections and the courts.

The county is finishing plans for building a juvenile hall on the site and also plans to build a jail and courthouse, and offices for the Sheriff, Probation, District Attorney and Public Defender's offices.

The county has spent almost $3 million grading, installing utilities, building an access road and completing environmental work for the site.

Tightening budgets on the local and state levels prompted some downscaling and delays. However, this week Pedro and Chief Probation Officer Adele Arnold said the juvenile detention center is still on track and will likely be the first project finished on the site.

Arnold said the county still plans to build the $19.75 million center that will hold 30 beds, with the option of adding 30 more in the future. About 80 percent of the juvenile project will be covered by a state grant, with the rest matched by the county.

The cost of operating the facility and changing demands for juvenile beds in the region mean the county will only use 10 of the 30 bed spaces once it opens.

"We can expand and operate additional beds as the need arises," Arnold said.

The county now contracts with multiple counties in Northern California to house juvenile offenders, costing almost $300,000 a year. Arnold estimated the county center will cost $507,000 to operate, but she also said keeping children in the community has substantial value. And the county will also be able to market vacant space for other communities without their own detention centers.

"I believe that the social costs certainly can't be replicated," Arnold said. "I think we can do a lot more in terms of fine tuning our programming in terms of getting our kids back into the community."

While the juvenile hall has financing, the county is still searching for some help to replace a county jail, widely considered obsolete. The Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors this week authorized the county to apply for up to $20 million in grant funds from the state to go toward the $37 million jail plan.

The county plans a 200-bed facility with options to add more beds down the line. The jail plan has already been scaled back for budget reasons from a more than $80 million proposal.

Pedro also said on Tuesday that there might still be some opportunities to find unused funds from a previous state jail construction program which the county barely missed last year. But members of the Board of Supervisors this week told Pedro to pursue outside funds, calling this a top priority.

"This is a matter of public safety," said Board of Supervisors Chairman Randy Hanvelt. "We're on a catch and release program, and it's only going to get worse."

Even if the county receives a sizeable grant from the state for jail construction, Pedro said the board will still have to find other financing for the rest.

A new courthouse is also planned at the Law and Justice Center, though the planning process remains stalled while the state tries to find funding. The $69 million, five-room court project will be fully funded by the state Administrative Office of the Courts, but officials with the courts office have said it's becoming more difficult to find those funds in its budget. The state has already purchased the plot of land on the site where the court facility will go, paying approximately $800,000 last year.

The court system has delayed courthouse buildings around the state because of deep budget cuts, but courts spokeswoman Keby Boyer said the state still plans on moving ahead with the Tuolumne County project.

Architectural design work is scheduled for 2014-15, but Boyer said they won't know if the funding is in place until the fiscal year begins in July 2014.

"We are still striving for funding of this project," she said.

Once completed, that court building would consolidate the offices located on Yaney and Washington streets. It would also place the building next door to the county jail, allowing for safer and easier transportation between the two facilities.

11908426
The Union Democrat
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