The county Board of Supervisors agree: the new Napa County Jail should not be in downtown Napa.
The supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to direct staff to pursue building a new jail in a yet-to-be determined location that should be 10 to 15 miles from downtown.
County Supervisor Keith Caldwell said Monday that the county was in preliminary discussions to purchase property adjacent to Napa State Hospital along Highway 221. The property is in front of Syar Industries Inc. and is currently leased to Pacific Supply, Caldwell said.
The decision to move the jail out of downtown reverses a course the board took in 2008, and affirmed in August 2011, to keep the jail in its current location in downtown.
That led to complaints and criticism from downtown business and public interests. Caldwell said he hoped Tuesday’s vote showed that he and his fellow supervisors were listening.
“We didn’t dig our heels in,” Caldwell said. “We are willing to look at things. It’s always, what’s in the best interest of the county? This is the right decision and we will continue to move forward with an out-of-town alternative.”
Supervisor Mark Luce said the next major issue will be to determine where to locate the new jail, as the board approved initial plans of a 366-bed jail with the ability to expand to 526 beds if needed.
With the vote Tuesday, county staff will continue negotiations at the Pacific Supply site while keeping options open for other locations. They will also move into the next phases of planning for the new jail, which will include environmental reviews and finalizing a financing plan.
A county staff report said construction could begin in the 2014-’15 fiscal year, although Luce said Tuesday that might be optimistic.
In explaining its earlier decision to keep the jail downtown, the county cited the need to maintain safety of correctional officers. They currently transport inmates to court through an underground tunnel from the adjacent jail. That would have to change if the jail was moved farther away. The cost of transporting inmates would also balloon.
At Tuesday’s board meeting, Assistant County Executive Officer Britt Ferguson said several things have changed that reasoning.
For one, the costs of building a new jail downtown would be more expensive than one out of downtown — estimates run from $111.9 million for one in downtown, compared to $72.8 million farther away.
Keeping the facility downtown limits its capacity to 398 beds; going to 500 beds would mean building a five-story-jail in downtown, which residents said they felt was too big.
It would also place the county in the difficult position of moving inmates in other detention facilities outside its boundaries during construction, which could add as much as $7.9 million to the total cost.
Building outside downtown means the county will have to purchase land, but it will have more flexibility in constructing the facility. The out-of-downtown jail will be one to two stories in height, but will have the capacity to expand to 526 beds fairly simply, Ferguson said.
The facility would just have to add more housing pods. The design would also mean fewer correctional officers would be needed, relative to a four-story-high jail, saving the county on operational costs.
The existing jail annex downtown would be used to hold pre-trial inmates with court dates, while the Hall of Justice could be renovated to house other county offices. Video arraingments could also be implemented in the new facility.
Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht said he felt the decision to move the jail out of downtown was the correct one, and cited the mostly empty Board of Supervisors’ conference room as evidence of that.
“If we had said we were going to go downtown, we would have a lot more people here,” Wagenknecht said. “We would have packed this room.”
Luce said the state government realignment initiative, which is leading to some inmates being sentenced to serve longer sentences in the county jail, was a critical factor to moving the jail out of downtown. Inmates serving longer sentences needed expanded recreational areas, which would not be feasible in downtown.
“It’s just not reasonable,” Luce said of the downtown location. “We needed something a little different. There’s a number of operational reasons why it’s the right direction.”