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County Notes (February 9, 2023)

At the January 24 Board discussion of the budget deficit, Supervisor Dan Gjerde complained about the continuing increases in the Jail Expansion project. 

We’ve written about this before starting last July when the Board seemed to agree that the state should be covering the lion’s share of the jail expansion cost increases because it’s a state project and the delays are attributed to the State Fire Marshal’s office month-long foot dragging in approving the expensive architect’s designs and specifications. 

Last July we wrote: 

“According to a recent status report to be presented to the Supervisors next Tuesday, the jail expansion project is now expected to cost between $27.3 million (low end) and $29.3 million (high end). (They have not yet selected the contractor.) The state is providing $25 million (a number which was thought to be plenty until costs started going up). This means the general fund may have to cover up to $4.2 million more than initially projected to finish the project for a total local cost of about $6.8 million, an unreasonable amount that in a normal world should be mostly picked up by the state since local jails are now forced to house prisoners that were previously the state’s responsibility. If we had responsible state solons instead of the ciphers we have — Assemblyman Jim Wood and State Senator Mike McGuire — they’d have already been working to spend a small amount of the state’s surplus on this jail cost overrun. And the Board would have been pressuring them. But no, instead we get silence from our supposed representatives, and budget whining from the Supervisors.” 

But despite that general agreement back then, nobody followed up. 

Gjerde’s remarks finally provided some clarity that the Board hadn’t previously understood:

Gjerde: “Each time the cost of the jail expansion project has gone up, and I’m not even necessarily directing this to anybody in the room right now, the presentation to the Board has been, ‘Here’s the new incremental extra cost. It’s just another $blank; it’s just another $blank.’ And it’s only been in the last six months, mostly because some of us on the Board have been articulating this, that, Wait a second. Take a step back. Let’s look at the big picture. This is a state program to realign state prisoners into County jails. I’m glad that we are finally getting our act together and preparing a timeline and a budget showing the cost increase and how much of this is attributed to state inaction and how much is County inaction. It looks like the vast majority is on the state side. But I feel that County staff who are responsible for projects like this that balloon out of control, we need to step it up and not just throw this on to the Board’s lap and say, Just come up with another $blank million out of the General Fund. We do not have those dollars in the General fund.”

With Gjerde’s assessment as a prod, the Board finally got around to directing Board Chair Glenn McGourty to write a letter to the state including Senator McGuire and Assemblyman Wood, telling them that the State should be picking up a larger share of their project and not just accept the architect’s insistence that there was a cap on the original jail expansion grant. Unfortunately, as usual, no dates or deadlines were imposed.

* * *

County CEO Darcie Antle made a positive impression on the Unity Club women during her appearance Thursday afternoon. According to our sources Antle was blunt in extemporaneous remarks about the problems she inherited from her predecessor and told the Club members that the County was too top-heavy in administrators while being understaffed at the line-worker level in several departments; adding the County’s high vacancy rate was worsened by the Mendo-version of the “Great Resignation.” Antle also said there she was having to deal with a lot of institutional inertia making things hard to improve. She singled out disaster preparedness as one subject that needs immediate attention. “We are not ready for an emergency,” Antle declared. Antle also said that she was frustrated by the individual agendas from members of her Board of Supervisors who seemed to want things which are at cross purposes to other Supervisors. No budget or management questions were asked. But the impression CEO Antle gave most of the attendees was that she’s an improvement over her predecessor and seems willing to deal with County-related problems that may arise from Anderson Valley.

* * *

Sheriff Kendall must be anticipating some major break-ins. 

Item 3v) on next Tuesday’s consent agenda is: “Authorization to Purchase Military Equipment that Includes Two Kinetic Breaching Tools, One Electric Hydraulic Breaching Tool and One Drone Kit for the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office in the Total Amount of $59,064.88; and Addition of the Items to the County’s List of Fixed Assets.”

We understand the military drone kit because it probably improves the patrol division’s surveillance capabilities, especially in remote areas. But we’d like to hear the rationale for ordering three new military style breaching tools. Have they been unable to break down doors with existing tools and methods? Do outback meth labs have reinforced doors? What happened (or didn’t happen) lately to make military breaching tools a necessity? (The items are on the Board’s agenda because of a County policy that requires board approval for procurement of any military style equipment. But as far as we know, Boards of Supervisors have never turned down a local law enforcement military equipment request.)

One Comment

  1. Scott Ward February 9, 2023

    The first department CEO Antle needs to review for being “Top Heavy” is her own.

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