Supervisors consider Grand Jury Report on East Contra Costa Fire Protection District
By Daniel Borsuk
Contra Costa County Sheriff-Coroner David Livingston exited the County Administration Building in Martinez the victor on Tuesday when county supervisors voted 4-1 to spend $25 million in general funds towards the construction of the controversial West Contra Costa County Reentry, Treatment, and Housing Facility in north Richmond. Only District 1 Supervisor John Gioia of Richmond voted no.
As the Sheriff left the building, a cluster of opponents to the project, chanted, “We Shall Overcome.”
Supervisors had agreed to spend county funds of which $15 million comes from the General Fund Reserve, $4.5 million from the Sheriff’s Plant Acquisition Account, and $2.5 million from the 2011 Local Revenue Fund upon learning the county was awarded $70 million in Senate Bill 844 Jail Construction funding from the California Board of State and Community Corrections on June 8. In addition, $3.2 million of 2011 In-Kind Match Land Value funds will be allocated for the project.
Two years ago Livingston was unsuccessful in securing SB 844 funding for the jail project when the county’s application was disqualified by the state corrections agency, but this time around the county’s application sailed through without difficulty, he told supervisors.
“It comes as no secret that I will vote no on this project,” said Gioia. “Spending $15 million of general fund money is inappropriate.”
The supervisor said this jail project has started a movement to “shift money from enforcement to prevention” in the community, a statement a number of community speakers had pleaded supervisors do numerous times over the past several months.
See the Sheriff’s presentation to the Supervisors, here: West County Detention Facility expansion presentation
Obviously, the community push to spend county public money on community health programs instead on a county jail project that would provide mental health services for inmates fell apart.
Board Chair Federal Glover of Pittsburg disagreed with Gioia, saying, “I’m always on the prevention side. This will give those in our jail a pathway. They need programs where they can get another opportunity and find necessary tools to make it in the world when they are released.”
“We need to find ways to prevent and divert people from going to jail,” said District 3 Supervisor Diane Burgis of Brentwood. “People want services, not jail cells. I understand that.”
Even then Burgis decided to spend the general fund money to construct the jail addition in north Richmond.
For five minutes District 2 Supervisor Candace Andersen of Danville read a list of community based behavioral health organizations such as the North Richmond Center for Health, West County Health Center, Bay Point Family Health Center, Pittsburg Health Center and Willow Pass Wellness Centers which all receive a piece of the $253 million in public funds that the board of supervisors spends each year.
While Andersen listed the county backed mental organizations, opponents turned their backs to her in protest.
“I want you to know I have been out in the community,” said Andersen,” I’ve talked to people on both sides of the issue. There are many people who want this project to move forward, but are not here to speak. Those of you with your signs don’t want to listen to the truth.”
District 4 Supervisor Karen Mitchoff concurred with Andersen. “I’ve been in public office 14 years,” said Mitchoff, “We have been listening. This board has been putting millions of dollars into mental health programs in our communities.”
Mitchoff also said the board of supervisors had nothing to do with the April 2015 closure of Doctor’s Medical Center in San Pablo, a topic that infrequently popped up sporadically during the public hearings. The San Pablo hospital closed in April 2015 when a parcel tax measure placed by the hospital’s owner, the nonprofit West Contra Costa Health Care District, failed to gain a two-thirds voter approval in a May 2014 ballot by mail election.
There were plenty of speakers voicing disapproval over the jail project. Sixty-five of the 70 speakers opposed the jail project. Some speakers urged supervisors to delay making a decision over concerns the supervisors were being influenced to approve the funding because Sheriff Livingston had secured the SB 844 funding from the state.
Supervisors did not elaborate, but they said they were not swayed by the Sheriff-Coroner Office to approve the local funding portion for the jail project.
Gordon Miller insisted public money should be spent on mental health programs outside the jail. “It’s like putting lipstick on a pig,” he said in reference to the planned West Contra Costa County Reentry, Treatment and Housing Facility project.
“I want to understand why four out five of supervisors are on the wrong side on this issue,” said Kaiser nurse Susie Riley. “Mental health is the civil rights issue of our time.”
But County Mental Health Commissioner Karen Cohen of Walnut Creek, a mother of a mentally ill child, called on supervisors to approve the $25 million allocation so that the county can build the 416-bed jail expansion. “Do the right thing and move the project forward,” she said.
The project will provide 416 beds of which 320 beds will be for high security prisoners and 96 beds for behavioral health inmates, Sheriff-Coroner David Livingston told supervisors. The new facility will replace 420 beds in the existing Martinez jail.
While informing supervisors his department does not conduct United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement sweeps or participate in any other ICE activities, Livingston said his department has since 1992 provided beds for ICE arrestees.
“We receive $6 million a year in revenue from the federal government for that ICE contract and I won’t walk away from that kind of money,” Livingston said.
Grand Jury Report on East Contra Costa Fire Protection District
County officials will respond to at least two recommendations and one finding the Contra Costa County Civil Grand Jury has requested the board of supervisors respond to concerning the financially troubled East Contra Costa Fire Protection District.
Supervisors accepted the report at Tuesday’s board meeting, but did not comment on the report.
After closing five of the eight fire stations under the ECCFPD’s jurisdiction in 2009, the grand jury listed nine recommendations of which the county is responsible to respond to two recommendations.
One recommendation states: “The County should consider adopting a policy to collect impact fees from all developers of residential and commercial properties to fund capital improvements that will be needed to open future stations.”
The second recommendation the county needs to respond to states, “The County should consider adopting a policy to enter into agreements with all developers to establish Community Facility Districts to provide operating revenue for ECCFFD.”
The Grand Jury also wants the county to respond to a finding, “The County does not always require developers of residential and commercial properties establish Community Facility Districts.”