Architectural Preservation Foundation wants old jail preserved for other uses; Board hears from Budget Justice Coalition on COVID related equity issues; COVID-19 variant draws concern
By Daniel Borsuk
Contra Costa Supervisors Candace Andersen and Karen Mitchoff chastised Contra Costa District Attorney Diana Becton, during the Board’s meeting on Tuesday, for holding her wedding reception in the backyard of her El Sobrante home in August in violation of COVID-19 health protocols.
“I think we give up hope when our top public officials improperly conduct themselves,” District 4 Supervisor Mitchoff of Pleasant Hill said.
“What District Attorney Becton did was wrong. There were so many events that so many of us had to give up that were important,” Mitchoff later said. “It just needs to be called out. We cannot sweep it under the rug and act as if this did not happen.”
“I feel very frustrated about the wedding District Attorney Becton had at her home” remarked District 2 Supervisor Andersen of Danville. “I was very surprised that she would have a party after a wedding, knowing it was in violation of county health codes.”
In her defense, Becton said: “I did everything I believe was in proper guidance with what I thought was allowed. I realize public officials like myself are held to a higher standard as we should be.”
Becton married Rev. Dr. Alvin C. Bernstine, a fourth-generation preacher and the author of his most recently published book, Hope Us, Lord. (See related article)
Approve Demolition of Old County Administration Building, Old County Jail
Over the concerns of preservationists, supervisors flashed the green light for Contra Costa County Public Works officials to hire a design-build contractor to demolish the old 12-story county administration complex at 651 Pine Street in Martínez and the old county jail across the street from the administration complex so that either a two or three-story office building can be constructed on the site of the old administration building.
In December, the county opened a new four-story, 71,000 square foot Administration Building across the street from old the Pine Street building.
It would cost about $65 million to demolish the old building and then build a two-story building and $75 million to build a three-story office building. The County plans to provide parking and open public space on the land cleared through demolition.
“Four years ago, we presented over 300 signatures to you for preservation,” said Architectural Preservation Foundation of Contra Costa President Cheryll Grover. “There has been no current relevant community outreach on this issue.”
According to the organization’s website, “In 1989 the entire Contra Costa County ‘Court House Block’ was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the 1903 County Jail and the present-day Finance Building. The National Register described these as classically inspired dignified structures of Vermont granite ‘designed to represent stability and permanence.’”
County officials have shown interest in using the Pine Street site for office space for the Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney’s Office, Public Offender’s Office, Health Services and the Office of Racial Justice and Equality.
Supervisors said because of the old jails building material – concrete to keep prisoners inside along with concerns about the presence of asbestos, made it problematic to renovate the old jail. Grover said her preservation group did propose alternative proposals to rehabilitate the old jail, but their proposals apparently fell short of the mark as far as meeting County Public Works criteria.
Hear from Budget Justice Coalition on COVID Related Equity Issues
In other action, the Board heard a presentation from the Contra Costa Budget Justice Coalition and the Bay Area Equity Atlas on COVID Related Equity Issues, to ensure all county residents are treated fairly during recovery from the pandemic.
According to their slide show, “The Contra Costa Budget Justice Coalition advocates for community engagement in the Contra Costa County budgeting process and for a set of values-based budgeting principles that support safe and affordable housing, stable employment with fair wages, sufficient healthy food, essential health care, access to critical social services, and quality early care and education.”
Presenters spoke on the subjects of Disparate COVID Health, Housing, and Economic Impacts, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) Community Challenges and Stabilizing Neighborhoods and Equitable Relief.
They offered proposed solutions and plans of action in response including: “Producing and Maintaining lasting affordable housing”; “Prioritize equity and those most in need – evictions, food, housing, health, essential services”; “Protect and stabilize vulnerable households and workers”; “Connect low-wage workers with economic opportunities”; and “‘Build Back Better’ through equitable investments in a stronger, fairer, more sustainable economy”; among others.
Santa Clara County COVID-19 Variant Draws County Warning
A deadly Coronavirus variant now prevalent in Santa Clara County could surface in Contra Costa County, Contra Costa County Health Department Health Officer Dr. Chris Farnitano informed supervisors.
“Getting a vaccine is still the most important thing one can do to protect oneself,” said Dr. Farnitano upon informing supervisors about the Santa Clara County variant. So far, 800 patients in Santa Clara County have been stricken with this variant and “there have been a couple of cases of this variant in Contra Costa County,” he said. “We expect to be more knowledgeable about this variant in the next couple of weeks.”
The Santa Clara County COVID-10 variant is one of a number of Coronavirus strains to have surfaced globally, particularly in Brazil, Nigeria, South Africa and the United Kingdom.
Dr. Farnitano said because Contra Costa County remains in the Purple Tier, at or under 46.2 new infections as it was in late January, school grade levels K to 6 can “bring back students as soon as tomorrow (Wednesday).” The restart of school for grade levels 7 to 12 will be determined later.
County health officials made the COVID-19 announcements at the same time United States health officials announced Tuesday that the most severe surge of the COVID-19 pandemic in the nation has weakened significantly based on major metrics. Nationally, newly reported cases have declined 56 percent over the past 30 days. Hospitalizations have declined 38 percent since January 6. The seven-day average of COVID-19 tests returning positive declined to 6.93 percent over the past week, the lowest rate since October 31.
Dr. Farnitano announced religious institutions can reopen at 25 percent occupancy, but chanting, singing and the serving of food are prohibited, he said.
Contra Costa Health Services Director Anna Roth also confirmed the county will receive $40 million in stated COVID-19 vaccine distribution funding but, could not provide details. Last week, there were initial reports the state aid the county would receive would be shared with health organizations Kaiser Permanente and Blue Shield.
County Health Equity Officer Gilbert Salinas said the county’s efforts to equitably distribute the vaccine throughout the county, especially in parts of the county where there are more people of color or economically disadvantaged is gaining traction. He reported that about 70,000 vaccine shots had been administered to county residents and retailers like Safeway, RiteAid, and WalMart are participating in the administration of vaccine shots.
Allen Payton contributed to this report.