By Daniel Borsuk
On a thin 3-2 vote, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday slapped a temporary moratorium on the County’s collection and assessment of 14 Adult Criminal Justice Fees that will cost the county $1.8 million in revenue a year should the moratorium become permanent.
During Public Safety Committee meetings, Chairperson John Gioia of Richmond and Supervisor Federal Glover of Pittsburg agreed with citizen committee members the fees are discriminatory to persons of color and likely result in longtime economic or financial hardship for persons who had a criminal record.
An “aye” vote from District 3 Supervisor Diane Burgis of Brentwood meant the county will temporarily stop the collection of fees, including the Sheriff Central Administration’s Booking Fee that will generate about $40,000 in 2019/2020, and the Adult Probation Supervision Fee that potentially could have generated nearly $1.8 million in 2019/2020 revenue.
The temporary moratorium will be effective immediately with the Board expecting to reevaluate the moratorium’s progress no later than Dec. 31, 2019. Supervisors will reassess the value of the moratorium at a December meeting.
Even though the county’s coffers are plentiful, with supervisors also officially adopting on a 5-0 vote the county’s $3.6 billion 2019-2020 final budget, the county is spending funds at a rapid pace through newly inked employee-union labor agreements like a 3.44 percent pay hike for social workers, an 8 percent salary raise for county supervisors that went into effect in July, and tacking on an additional $7.5 million in costs to the new Administration Building and new Emergency Operations Center/Public Safety Building to improve the security and communication capabilities during emergencies.
During a three-hour discussion on the item, Board Vice Chair Candace Andersen consistently opposed the moratorium on grounds that by dropping the fees for all persons, individual with the financial resources will benefit the most. “There are a lot of people who are committing these crimes who have the ability to pay these fees,” said the supervisor from Danville. “There is no reason why we shouldn’t be assessing these fees.”
In arguing against the proposal, District 4 Supervisor Karen Mitchoff said the elimination of $1.8 million of criminal justice fees could financially impact social and health programs such as drug diversion programs that assist persons with criminal records. “I cannot support the moratorium at this time,” the supervisor from Pleasant Hill declared.
But there were a number of citizens in support of the proposal to eliminate the fees.
“There are many people I have represented who 15 to 20 years later did not know that they’d have their wages garnished or face the ongoing inability to pay even though they have jobs and families,” said Mary Sylla, an attorney at Rubicon Programs.
“We urge you to do the right thing,” pleaded Ali Saidi, head of the Contra Costa Public Defenders Association, “These fees impact people of color.”
Request to Reopen Lafayette Murder Case Referred to DA’s Unit
Antioch private investigator and former Antioch Councilman Ralph Hernandez’s pitch, to have the 2005 murder case of Pamela Vitale of Lafayette reopened, got the thumbs up from the board of supervisors. The case was referred to Contra Costa District Attorney’s newly created conviction integrity unit. In this instance, Scott Dyleski, who Hernandez represents, was convicted for the October 2005 murder of Vitale.
“Your assistance in directing such from your two agencies (D.A.’s Office and Public Defender’s Office) is more than warranted,” Hernandez said. “Fourteen years of Scott’s youth has already been denied him and he still faces many more if this very serious matter is just ignored by all. Pamela Vitale’s memory deserves that the truth be determined, not ignored.”
Supervisors did not comment openly about the case, but Gioia consented that at least the DA’s new conviction integrity unit review the case.
New Land Development Fees Approved
Without opposition from either supervisors or the public, supervisors unanimously approved new land development fees charged for services performed by the Department of Conservation and Development and the Public Works Department starting March 1, 2020.
Some fees like encroachment fees have not been adjusted since 1995 and in many instances, rates are decreasing “due to economy of scale,” John Kopchik, director of the Contra Costa County Department of Conservation and Development told the Contra Costa Herald.
Supervisors withheld action on a proposal to charge a $1,000 fee for the time and materials needed to submit and process applications for nomination of a building or cultural resource for consideration before the Historical Landmarks Advisory Committee.
“The Historical Landmarks Advisory Committee believes that the current and proposed fees of $1,000 deposit and time and materials required to submit and process applications to nominate historical and cultural resources to the County’s Historic Resources Inventory (HRI) are a deterrent to public participation in the program.
“The HLAC voted at their meeting held on August 8, 2019 to make a formal recommendation to the Board of Supervisors to reduce these fees to encourage organizations or individuals to nominate potential resources to be designated to the HRI,” Historic Landmark Advisory Committee staff member Dominique Vogelpohl wrote on August 26.