Tuesday, April 20, 2021     Volume: 22, Issue: 7

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on February 17th, 2021, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 21, Issue 51 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 21, Issue 51

North County jail to open later this year

By Malea Martin

The long-awaited Northern Branch Jail Project is close to completion and is expected to open in mid-2021—nearly two years after the original target date for occupancy.

John Green, senior project manager for the new jail, told the Sun via email that the jail is estimated to reach substantial completion by April 2021 and be ready for occupancy by June 2021. He said the project is about 99 percent complete.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department Public Information Officer Raquel Zick told the Sun that substantial completion means “all the equipment, systems, and programs are finished,” and only minor tasks remain, whereas final completion is when the facility is formally turned over to the owner.

Occupancy can begin after final completion, she continued, and according to the county’s agreement with the state, it must occur within 90 days of final completion.

The long-anticipated Northern Branch Jail Project is nearly complete and slated to open for occupancy in June.

The approved project budget is nearly $119 million, and the county has spent about $114 million to date, according to Green. In an agreement with the state under the Assembly Bill 900 Jail Financing Program, the county was allowed up to $80 million in state financing. So far, the county has received 95 percent of that funding, Green said. 

According to the project’s webpage, the original timeline would have had the jail constructed by November 2018 and ready for occupants in spring of 2019. 

“The project has experienced numerous delays to the construction,” Green said, including “a subcontractor refusing to execute a subcontract with the prime contractor, … inclement weather impacting critical path construction sequencing, contractor’s coordination of the work, material procurement delays, and design changes.”

On top of these challenges, COVID-19 impacted staffing and disrupted supply chains for materials, Green said.

But with completion now just around the corner, the Sheriff’s Office will soon have to decide how to distribute the county’s inmate population between the new jail and the Main Jail.

“The Northern Branch Jail can house 330 or so inmates,” Zick told the Sun. “So whatever’s left over from our population would be housed at the Main Jail. Our population over the last couple of months has been between 630 and 650, which would mean that somewhere around 300 and 320 people would be housed south.”

However, those numbers could change significantly after COVID-19, Zick said. Before the pandemic, the jail consistently held around 1,000 inmates. Whether the Sheriff’s Office will commit to maintaining the current, lower population for the long run is still a question mark. 

“We’re focused on COVID operations right now, and maintaining our population given our current circumstances,” Zick said. “Those conversations are being had, but I don’t think that there’s been any final decisions in that regard.” 

Zick said crime statistics from 2020 are still under review.

“I think that’d be probably a focal interest point in that conversation,” she said. 

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