Environmental impacts of new Santa Maria Jail site discussed

 

Despite a fast-approaching grant deadline, the county has not made any bids to purchase a newly proposed North County jail site, which has been found to be a “superior” choice, notwithstanding possibly overlapping Chumash archeological sites and loss of agricultural land, according to county planners.

 

At a sparsely attended meeting Jan. 30, county planning and development staff discussed reasons for calling the 50-acre site, located at the southwest corner of Betteravia and Black roads, superior to other previously considered sites, which include the Laguna Sanitation District wastewater treatment plant, adjacent to the current proposed site.

The Laguna site was the last considered jail site, until pricey complications, including contamination issues, were discovered through an environmental review last year.

 

The current proposed site is being listed for sale by Ed Sutti, whose family has owned and used the land to farm vegetables since 1998.

“Every time we talk about a jail, we talk about a different site,” Greg Kaiser, county planning supervisor said. “The county decided not to purchase previous sites because of contamination issues. We are trying to work with willing sellers opposed to trying to force some kind of arrangement.”

 

County staff reported that solid waste disposal, loss of agricultural land and visual aesthetics, were among the class one impacts they found in its environmental review, but said the county found mitigating factors to deal with the impacts.

Planners also heard public comment from a Chumash representative who brought attention to the possibility of the site overlapping Chumash archeological locations.

Freddie Romero, cultural preservation specialist for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians and for the tribe’s Elder’s Council said he was “kind of taken aback,” that Rincon Consultants Inc., the environmental consulting firm that prepared the EIR for the current and previously considered sites, did not mention two known Chumash village sites that were discovered during the preparation of the Laguna site EIR.

 

He added that since the Sutti site is adjacent to the Laguna site, the Chumash village site might overlap with the proposed jail site.

“We would like to work with developers and mitigate some of the issues so we’re allowing progress to take place,” Romero said. “We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen at this point, other than there’s going to be more discussion,” he added in a later interview.

Though the Sutti site has been discussed and an EIR has been completed, it is still unclear whether the county will choose the site for the north county jail — a decision that must be made by mid-March for the Sheriff’s department to be eligible to receive a grant that would provide the funds to build the jail.

 

County media spokesman William Boyer said that the public is not entitled to know the details of the possible purchase and refused to discuss any information relating to negotiations between the county and Sutti.

In general, negotiations for the purchase of real property are exempted from the open meeting and public disclosure requirements of Government Code Sections 54950-54963, called the Brown Act.

But Santa Barbara Sheriff Bill Brown said the county has other options besides the Sutti property and explained that the county wouldn’t need to have every detail worked out to be eligible to apply for the grant. 

 

“We already have control over one piece of property. This is the Laguna Sanitation site.

So, worst case scenario: We could apply using this site,” he said. “We have to have some kind of control of the site. It could still be in escrow or pending studies. It doesn’t have to be completely finalized.” 

A court order compels all counties to relieve jail overcrowding by building or providing more beds and facility space. But Brown said he remains optimistic that even if the grant fell through, the Sheriff’s department would find other ways of raising money.

 

Sutti said that the land remains for sale and that he continues to receive solicitations; but he added that he prefers the jail project.

“I personally like the project,” he said. “I’m about getting things done, not just talking about it.

The county has passed up good opportunities in the past.”