Santa Barbara County staff was directed to pursue a renovation of the Main Jail, concentrating only on areas to be used in the future, while conducting a long-range assessment of future needs that considers a direct-supervision model.

The project authorized Nov. 9 by the Board of Supervisors will have an estimated $24.9 million price tag, of which $14 million is for meeting Americans with Disabilities Act requirements and code compliance, resolving safety issues and performing such deferred maintenance as replacing the roof and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems and fixing plumbing, electrical and structural problems.

Another $6 million would go for new programing, medical and medical health areas and cell improvements, with about $4 million allocated for design and project management costs.

Adding the jail assessments tacked on another $700,000 to the total cost but would have no effect on the completion time, and the staff would have to bring the results of the assessments back to the board for approval of any projects stemming from them.

But those costs prompted 1st District Supervisor Das Williams to question the benefits it will provide and the ongoing costs that weren’t included, ultimately voting “no” in the 4-1 decision.

“I submit to you, the Main Jail is a money pit,” said Williams, concerned that the cost of the project didn’t include the escalating yearly maintenance cost, which combined with the utility bills would add $1.6 million to the annual cost.

He said that is $466,000 more than what annual maintenance costs would be for a new facility, and he was also concerned about the amount of overtime for custody deputies working in an inefficient operation.

Williams said the county should renegotiate the settlement in a lawsuit to offer two to three direct-supervision units, which he said the plaintiffs believe is a more humane system, and classify a number of jail beds as overflow units.

Williams was referring to a federal class action lawsuit filed in December 2017 by inmates alleging numerous humanitarian violations at the jail. The suit was settled in July 2020.

He also said he wasn’t prepared to support the recommended option because “it moves us along the path of incarcerating 1,000” individuals and “I think it’s a bad investment,” while the amount for a new facility “pales in comparison to the huge overtime costs” ahead.

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But 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said in his view, the project is fixing 30 years of neglect, and pointed out that the first option, which was also part of the recommended second option, had to be done anyway.

“That facility down there is a money pit and has been for 20 years,” Lavagnino said. “So what are we going to do here? … Option 2 still gives us room to maneuver.”

Supervisors made the decision after hearing an update on efforts to improve the criminal justice system being made by a collaboration of the Superior Court, Probation Department and the County Executive, Sheriff’s, District Attorney’s and Public Defender’s offices.

Part of the report involved demonstrations of two new online dashboards that provide data about adult supervision from the Probation Department and jail populations, bookings and releases from the Sheriff’s Office.

Other dashboards are in the works from the District Attorney’s and Public Defender’s offices.

Supervisors applauded the efforts, which staff said were produced in-house and are superior to similar dashboards in other counties, especially since they will be able to share data between departments and the ability to analyze statistics will be improved soon.

“The data dashboards are really powerful and impressive,” said 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart. “The reason transparency is so important is because we’re trying to make decisions about the criminal justice system based on data.”

Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann called them “cutting-edge.”

“I believe this offers far more than what anyone anticipated,” Hartmann said.