The 1,600-plus jail beds that Riverside County officials were hoping to have available for use by the end of next year in Indio probably won’t be in place until the end of 2017 because of delays at the
state level, the chairman of the Board of Supervisors said today.
“We’re not taking this lightly,” Supervisor Marion Ashley told City News Service. “We’re really starting to worry about this now.”
According to the Economic Development Agency, construction of the East County Detention Center is awaiting final approval from the Office of the California State Fire Marshal, which has had the jail plans in hand since early last year.
“This ended up being a more complex design. They’ve had some internal challenges,” said Robert Field, assistant county executive officer/EDA.
Until the fire marshal’s office signs off on the 506,000-square-foot detention facility plan, the state Department of Finance will not disburse the $100 million promised to the county to cover about a third of construction costs.
The $309 million ECDC has been in the works since the first half of 2012. Space was cleared at Highway 111 and Oasis Street last spring to build the facility, which will replace the existing 350-bed Indio Jail nearby.
“We want to get to work. We have a site ready to go. You can see there’s a big hole in the ground waiting for a jail to get built on it,” said Field.
EDA officials have been in contact with the fire marshal’s office to address concerns about the project. A face-to-face meeting is scheduled Feb. 3 in Sacramento.
“We’ll have the appropriate people at that meeting,” Ashley said.
“Whatever it takes to get this thing going — that will be our focus. I understand the fire marshal wants to be careful and make sure everything is done right. Of course, there was a delay because of the holidays. But the holidays are over. Let’s get this thing done.”
Calls to the Office of the California State Fire Marshal for comment were not immediately returned.
According to EDA, the process of selecting a contractor to construct the ECDC will take about three months to complete. A list of “pre-qualified” prospects has been approved, and a project manager is already in place.
However, a groundbreaking date for the project has not been set.
The EDA had originally estimated the ECDC’s completion in November 2016.
“Estimates produced by our team have us 12 months behind schedule at this point,” retiring EDA spokesman Tom Freeman told City News Service. “We will move as fast as we can. But much hinges on the upcoming state fire marshal meeting.”
The detention center will net the county an additional 1,273 inmate beds. Various estimates put the county’s need for correctional space at between 5,000 and 10,000 beds over the next decade to keep up with demand.
The county’s current inventory of 3,906 beds has been deemed woefully inadequate, exacerbated by changes in state law.
Assembly Bill 109, the Public Safety Realignment Act of 2011, mandated that so-called “non-serious, non-violent” offenders convicted of felonies that do not stem from a sexual offense are to serve their sentences in local detention facilities instead of state prison. That includes a large swath of
parole and probation violators.
Sheriff’s figures indicate that over the last three years, roughly 27,000 inmates were released from the county’s five jails to make space available. Under a 20-year-old federal court decree, the county must have a jail bed for every detainee or selectively release inmates to make room for incoming ones.
“Hopefully we can get this thing going this year,” Ashley said. “It will take three years to build. We’re not saving any money by waiting. That’s for sure.”
All funds expended on the project to date have been drawn from county accounts. In November, the supervisors authorized a $20 million transfer from the Flood Control and Water District to a capital improvement fund used for ECDC costs.
Last July, the board signed off on a $325 bond sale to raise revenue for jail construction. The IOUs will only be sold on an as-needed basis. None have gone to market for auction yet.