Figure 1. Location of New Jail Facilities

Source: Napa Valley Register: Kelly Doren

Napa County after years of effort has come up with a $128 million financial plan that could see a new, 304-bed jail built along Highway 221 in fall 2021.

The Napa County Board of Supervisors discussed and endorsed the strategy on Tuesday, with a final vote pending. A patchwork of funding includes $23 million in state money, $12.8 million from surplus land sales and a $20 million loan.

“What we’ve got to make clear is we need a jail,” Supervisor Ryan Gregory said. “We don’t have a choice not to have the jail. Our jail is broken. We need a new one.”

County officials have long contended that the 264-bed downtown Napa jail is inadequate, both in size and in design. The 2014-15 grand jury agreed.

The downtown jail includes a portion built in 1976 and a newer wing built in 1989. It has seen various construction projects in recent years, including repairs from damage caused by the 2014 South Napa earthquake and remodeling for safety reasons.

Once the new jail is built, the county will need the old jail only as a holding facility for inmates who are to appear in the adjacent courthouse for trial. Ultimately, the county plans to redevelop much of the prime, downtown site along Main Street.

Resident James Hinton said during public comments that voters in 2016 turned down Measure Y. This was a proposed quarter-cent sales tax increase to raise money for a smaller version of a new jail and to expand children’s programs. It received 45 percent of the vote.

“Measure Y was rejected just recently by voters,” Hinton told supervisors. “We do not want to build a bigger jail. I don’t understand why that message isn’t getting through.”

Hinton said the county could use $12.8 million from the land sales for affordable housing instead of for the new jail. If the county insists on building a new jail, it should tax “fat cat wineries” to help pay the cost, he said.

The county could pay to send some offenders to Napa Valley College instead of paying more money to house them in jail, he said. Educating them would give them the information they need to make good decisions, he said.

Once he sat down, Supervisor Belia Ramos launched into a spirited response, in part because she thought Hinton had crossed the line by mentioning a colleague’s family. She also addressed the jail issue.

The Eighth Amendment that forbids cruel and unusual punishment requires the county to provide humane and adequate shelter to all its inmates, she said. That’s what the new jail will do.

“And then to think our inmates who are in very vulnerable situation do not deserve the best correctional facility to allow them to live sustainable lives when they leave our custody …” Ramos said.

“They deserve clean air,” Hinton said from his seat, noting the proposed jail site is near a quarry.

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“I deserve respect. You had your three minutes. I get my time,” Ramos said.

County Executive Director Minh Tran said counties can be sued for violating the Eighth Amendment. If the courts step in, a county faces attorney fees and having to build a jail under a scenario with less control over costs.

Under one scenario, Napa County could take out a certificates of participation loan topping $19 million at an estimated 3.69 percent interest rate. It would pay about $1.4 million annually until 2037, for a total of $26 million, counting interest. The county’s South Campus would serve as collateral.

County officials initially proposed getting that $1.4 million for the annual payments from the county’s annual Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement money. This is money the county receives from a 1998 lawsuit settlement among 46 states and the tobacco industry. Napa County traditionally disburses $1.1 million from its share of the money to local nonprofits for health and social services.

The Tobacco Master Settlement money would serve as a bridge until 2024, when other county loans will be retired, freeing up another revenue stream to cover the annual jail loan payments. In the meantime, the county would still disperse grant money annually to local nonprofits using $6.2 million in Tobacco Master Settlement money it has saved.

Leaders of local nonprofits didn’t like the idea. They expressed concern a future Board of Supervisors might stop providing the local grants once the $6.2 million in savings was gone.

“It is an essential investment in prevention services,” said Michele Grupe of Cope Family Center.

Gregory proposed what proved to be the answer – the county will use the $6.2 million in Tobacco Master Settlement savings for the jail loan and leave the annual grant program unchanged.

Only last summer, county officials expected the county would need to take out a $50 million loan to build the new jail. But now the county can reduce the loan to $20 million in part because of tax money it expects to have available after making state-required payments for schools.

This is anticipated excess Educational Revenue Augmentation Fund money. ERAF is tied to a complicated financing move a cash-strapped state made during the early 1990s economic downturn that shifted partial financing for local schools to local governments.

Napa County has money available after meeting the state-required school funding levels. A suggested budget for the jail released by the county shows about $34 million coming from ERAF over a number of years for the project.

One reason for the higher-than-expected ERAF income is Napa Valley Unified School District expects decreased enrollment of about 1,400 students by 2021-22, a county report said.

The new jail is to be located at 2300 Napa Vallejo Highway, also known as Highway 221. The property is also to be home to a $16 million, 72-bed jail reentry facility to help inmates ease back into society. The reentry facility is under construction.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.