Santa Paula Times

Council approves resolution opposing Todd Road Jail grant application

September 11, 2013
Santa Paula News

By Peggy Kelly

Santa Paula Times 

A majority of the City Council voted to adopt a resolution condemning the county’s proposal to apply for a $35 million grant to expand Todd Road Jail, with one councilman saying he will visit the Ventura City Council to voice his objections.

It was the second time in about two weeks that the council split 4-1 on the resolution opposing the application of Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean. The expansion would provide 64 beds to prisoners with mental illnesses or chronic health conditions.

Dean told the council at the August 19 meeting that about a third of those incarcerated suffer from some sort of mental illness, and although those inmates requiring special care are not at the point of hospitalization they do require special monitoring. 

At the September 3 meeting the council repeated much of what they said at the August 19 session, including their motivation in objecting to the expansion of the jail, located about three miles west of the city. Councilman Jim Tovias again voiced his fears that a state grant could also carry state mandates that could overcome even county objections.

After an area woman told the council she is bipolar and her illness led to behaviors that resulted in jail time, Tovias said the issue is “not challenging the need,” but rather the financing and subsequent state involvement, a stance disputed by Dean at the August 19 meeting.

The need might be better fulfilled by a facility closer to the Ventura County Medical Center, “that was my angle on it,” said Councilman Bob Gonzales, who had questioned Dean about the location at the August 19 meeting.

Councilman Martin Hernandez, the only councilman who supports the plan, said it was more cost effective to expand the Todd Road Jail, and “those who needed more treatment would be transferred to the hospital.”

Mayor Ralph Fernandez said the jail does not employ many Santa Paulans and does not benefit the local economy as much as Dean claimed.

Some of the council criticized the county for failing to notify the city in July when the Board of Supervisors approved Dean’s request to complete the grant application. Several councilmen again noted the expansion could bring about the possible melding of the jail and Santa Paula in people’s minds much like Camarillo and the state mental hospital, which closed in 1997.

“The only reason we’re being stigmatized is the mentions from this dais” of the jail, said Hernandez, whereas before, “The only things I ever heard about Santa Paula is Cruise Nite, Moonlight at the Ranch, America in Bloom” and other positive activities and programs. “I don’t hear about the jail... the only place I hear about the jail is here.”

With the council vote, City Manager Jaime Fontes or a designee will forward the resolution to the county Board of Supervisors, other cities in Ventura County and state officials.

Tovias said he would be making at least one personal appearance, and noted an earlier comment by Hernandez that other cities are not opposing the expansion. “We don’t have any councils opposed because this is not going in their backyard” and, Tovias noted, “I will be talking to the City of Ventura” about the issue.