Tuolumne County seal

An online petition against the closing of the Mother Lode Regional Juvenile Detention Facility in Sonora has gained nearly 4,000 signatures in just over 15 hours. 

The petition was created by Susanne Vyhmeister, who volunteers at the facility, before the county Board of Supervisors was scheduled to meet at 10 a.m. Friday to discuss the hall’s fate.

“We will not stop this battle against the victimization of the most vulnerable Tuolumne County citizens until the Board of Supervisors ceases its efforts to close the facility,” Vyhmeister said in a mass email sent Thursday night.

Vyhmeister and her husband launched a website at www.saveourhall.com instructing people on how to provide public comments during the meeting, because the public is not allowed in the board chamber’s due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

They are also planning a protest in Courthouse Square at 5 p.m. Monday and instructing people to wear masks and bring signs in support of the juvenile hall.

The board discussed the potential “warm closure” of the facility at a meeting on May 19, which led to a tense exchange between County Supervisor Karl Rodefer and Chief Probation Officer Dan Hawks and the resignation of Mike Arndt, the juvenile probation division manager.

A “warm closure” would mean that the programs at the facility would continue, but the youth would be detained outside of the county. 

The state, which provided a $16 million grant to build the facility, has given the county approval to move forward with the “warm closure” if it chooses.

Discussions about potentially closing the facility first started almost immediately after it opened in April 2017 due to the operating costs, which are about $1.5 million per year.

The county is facing a projected shortfall of nearly $5 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1, requiring a number of cuts to services. 

Other cuts that have been discussed include closing library branches, cancelling recreation programs until next spring, and opening 150 out of the 230 beds at the new $51 million county jail when it opens in October or November.

 

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocat.com or (209) 768-5175.

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