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Wednesday, Jul 17, 2024

Don’t Rebuild Women’s Jail at Current Site, Argue Santee Officials

There is a desperate need to replace Las Colinas Detention Facility, the county women’s detention facility, in Santee. Yet businesses and city officials said land adjacent to the existing jail, the site of a proposed expansion, is much too valuable.

The county is planning to build a larger women’s jail, which would include expanding the existing 15-acre site to 45 acres and increasing the number of beds to 1,250 from 810.

The city of Santee held a news conference July 17 to discuss the findings of a $100,000 economic study conducted by London Group Realty Advisors Inc.

“What we are trying to do is help the sheriff and help the county get the highest and best use of the land and the highest and best use of jail facilities for efficiency of operations.

“We are purely doing this from a business standpoint,” said Santee Mayor Randy Voepel.

The study, conducted with Jones, Roach & Caringella Inc. and the Criminal Justice Consultancy, said building a larger facility would adversely affect the value of nearby residential and commercial properties and damage the city’s economic growth.

The replacement jail could have a negative impact exceeding $165 million, according to the report.

“If they build a jail of the magnitude they are proposing, it will decrease surrounding real estate values by up to $75 million,” Voepel said.

Saving Taxpayer Dollars

The London Group said there is an outstanding opportunity to redevelop Las Colinas and former hospital properties with homes or businesses by moving the jail to a location with less valuable but suitable land. This could save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

“Santee’s quality of life is at risk by redeveloping the largest, most prominent and finest undeveloped parcel of land in the city and building a jail. This proposal is a classic misuse and underutilization of property,” said the report.

The residential land value is estimated between $45.9 million and $89 million, depending on use, said the report. This represents approximately $1 million to $2 million per acre in value for the site, if it were privately developed.

“The existing 45 acres of property in Santee is much too valuable as commercially useable property to build a new jail. This is essentially value that deprives taxpayers of the county of San Diego the best use of their tax dollars,” stated the report.

The analysis said the current site of the county’s adult and youth detention facilities in South County is a viable alternative.

Business Opportunities

Warren H. Savage, executive director of the Santee Chamber of Commerce, said the proposed jail expansion is not a problem, but an opportunity from a business perspective.

“It is an opportunity for the city and county to work together to maximize the potential for this property,” he said.

Savage said the county needs to find another site for financial reasons.

“We all believe that the existing Las Colinas jail must be replaced, but we believe that the community and over 3 million county taxpayers deserve a better option than the one that will cost us all millions of dollars of lost opportunities,” he said.

Exploring alternative locations for the jail would create an opportunity to generate revenue with the sale of this prime parcel and ultimately fund a facility, said Savage.

“The county has over 850 parcels of land that it owns and yet they have studied only one site, a site that is completely inappropriate for the type of facility they are proposing,” he said.

The 350-member chamber asked the San Diego County Board of Supervisors to exercise sound business judgment and review impacts before making a decision that would affect Santee’s economic potential for decades.

“As business owners we cannot afford to risk our businesses by making rash decisions and ignoring the financial consequences. The county should be operating on that same business model,” he said.

Savage said he was shocked to hear that the Board of Supervisors is not interested in the economist’s report on the fiscal impacts.

Upgrades Needed

Supervisor Ron Roberts of District 4 said the county has and will continue to work very closely with Santee.

“These facilities need to be rebuilt,” stressed Roberts. “And we know from an operational standpoint this is an excellent location.”

Roberts added that the county is reviewing alternative locations in its environmental impact report as well. In September, the county informed the public of its intent to prepare an EIR for construction of a replacement jail. The EIR is expected to be made public early next year.

“I would be surprised if the final analysis suggests some location that is better or superior,” said Roberts.

Undersheriff William Gore said the aging Los Colinas is severely overcrowded and requires a lot of maintenance.

With the new jail in the planning stages, Gore stressed the importance of having a centrally located detention and booking facility.

“The primary concern of the county is good public service and public safety,” said Gore. “It doesn’t make sense to have to go from one end of the county to the other for a booking facility.”

Not having a facility centrally located would take officers off their beats to transport individuals to the booking facility, said Gore. A booking facility in Otay Mesa could cost North County police officers hours of time to commute to and from the communities they serve.

“Our concern is not that it is inconvenience to the officer, but it is a public safety concern,” he said.


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