Santa Ana Reverses Plans to Downsize Jail, After New Plan is Said to Save Money and Jobs

The Santa Ana city jail. (Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Santa Ana officials are reversing their June decision to reduce staffing at their mostly-empty jail, agreeing instead to hold an additional 173 U.S. Marshals detainees at a time for the next two years, after the acting police chief said it would reduce the city’s budget deficits and save jail jobs.

Acting Police Chief David Valentin, who recommended City Council members approve the changes, said it would prevent the layoffs of 26 jail employees while also cutting the city’s budget deficits by $4 million this fiscal year and $6.2 million next fiscal year.

The jail staff reductions had been expected after the City Council in February cut the number of detainees it would hold for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as the city phased out the contract. ICE responded by cancelling the contract.

The city jail does not house people arrested by city police, because the county Sheriff’s Department holds city arrestees in county jail at no cost to cities.

Faced with millions of dollars per year in construction debt for its jail, as well as staffing costs, Santa Ana rents out its 480-bed jail to federal agencies. And with the ICE detainees gone, the jail has been mostly empty – operating at 37 percent of capacity as of Tuesday – and thus not in need of as many staff as it once had.

With the jail mostly empty, City Council members approved a plan on June 20 to downsize two of the jail’s four floors into a lesser-capacity holding facility this coming January. And they’ve commissioned a study to look at converting much of the facility to other purposes like a mental health center, digital data center, or homeless shelter.

The Marshals officials said they needed additional capacity due to renovations at their downtown Los Angeles detention center from September 2017 to August 2019, Valentin wrote in his report, adding the federal agency asked to transfer 173 additional inmates to Santa Ana’s jail.

The acting chief brought the expansion to the council, along with a request that the council direct staff to bring back a budget and staffing plan to the council on Aug. 15 to accommodate the expansion.

The council approved both requests on a 4-1 vote Tuesday, with Mayor Miguel Pulido and councilmen Jose Solorio, Juan Villegas, and Vicente Sarmiento supporting it.

The growth in Marshals inmates will give the city time “to be more thoughtful” in studying future opportunities for the jail, Sarmiento said.

Councilwoman Michele Martinez voted against the expansion, reiterating her longstanding position that the city should get out of the jail business altogether. Councilmen Sal Tinajero and David Benavides were absent.

The U.S. Marshal’s Service is responsible for transporting federal prisoners, capturing fugitives who have fled from custody, and arresting people on federal warrants.

On Tuesday, the jail had 199 inmates. With the Marshals expansion, jail officials expect to expand to between 300 and 340 inmates, or 63 percent to 71 percent of capacity.

The expanded Marshals contract will reduce the city’s overall budget deficit by $4 million this fiscal year and $6.2 million next fiscal year, according to Valentin’s report to the council.

That would bring the overall budget deficit down from $9.3 million to $5.3 million this fiscal year and from $8.9 million to $2.7 million next fiscal year, he wrote.

Much of the ongoing deficits were created when the City Council intentionally prompted ICE to cancel its jail contract with the city, a move city staff say cost Santa Ana $11 million in revenue each year.

The increase in Marshals detainees is projected to bring $8 million in extra revenue to the city this fiscal year – covering most of the $11 million-per-year ICE contract loss.

To accommodate the expanded inmate population, Valentin is asking the council to add $6.2 million to this year’s jail budget that was removed in the council’s June 20 budget approval, as well as the jail staff positions that were cut from the budget.

The council is scheduled to vote on the budget and staffing increase on Aug. 15.

At the same time, city officials are studying whether to change the jail’s use going forward. They hired a jail construction company, Vanir Construction Management, to study the facility and potential future uses for the jail.

Vanir representatives gave an update to the City Council at Tuesday’s meeting, saying the jail has nice furnishings for inmates, but is “deficient” by today’s standards in the amount of space it provides for inmates if it was at or near full capacity.

Jails built today have about 500 square feet per inmate, yet Santa Ana’s has only 350 square feet per inmate, according to the jail construction and consulting company.

Martinez noted the consultants found the jail is inadequate under the Americans with Disabilities Act, commonly known as the ADA.

“We could get fined,” Martinez said. “This report is indicating that we are not in compliance with ADA.”

Vanir plans to study several options for the jail’s future uses, including whether to keep it as a jail or pursue “out of the box” ideas like a mental health facility, digital data center, homeless shelter, youth hostel, or police evidence and storage facility.

Martinez and two public commenters supported the data center concept, saying it would help the city and county governments, as well as local schools and colleges.

Martinez said it would require less retrofitting of the jail than other uses, because it would house mostly computers.

Councilman Jose Solorio liked the idea of using the jail as a re-entry facility to assist state prison inmates who are being re-integrated back into society, noting many inmates get out with very little money and few opportunities.

The consultants plan to take into account the council members’ ranking of what’s most important to them for potential jail uses – including how they rank the community benefits versus generating income to the city. 

Some public commenters suggested Vanir would be biased in favor of keeping the facility as a jail.

“As a [jail] construction company, Vanir has an inherent conflict of interest to make such an assessment,” said Daisy Ramirez, a jails project coordinator with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

Sarmiento said he was “disappointed” with the consultants’ presentation, saying there was a lack of community outreach to get ideas from the public about how the jail could be used.

The councilman said he doesn’t think the consultants are “moving at the right pace” and he doesn’t think the results so far “are satisfactory.”

Solorio agreed there should be more outreach, particularly to neighborhood and business groups.

Mayor Miguel Pulido recused himself from the discussion of the jail re-use study, saying he knows a woman who owns Vanir, Dorene C. Dominguez. She is also the company’s chairwoman and CEO.

At a prior meeting, in April when Vanir’s contract was approved, Pulido said he was recusing himself because in his career as an engineer there was a time when he was going to “potentially work” with Dominguez’s firm.

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

  • verifiedsane

    Santa Ana is a toilet stuck on flush, and the city government refuses to call a plumber….

  • David Zenger

    Martinez noted the consultants found the jail is inadequate under the Americans with Disabilities Act, commonly known as the ADA.

    “We could get fined,” Martinez said. “This report is indicating that we are not in compliance with ADA.”

    Maybe someone can clarify this, but wasn’t the jail built AFTER the passage of the ADA?

  • Manuel Delgadillo

    Michelle Martinez should get out of the City Council Business. She is always the doomsayer in these City Council Meeting. Where is your common sense? The City of Santa Ana should get out of the jail business once its paid for and not before. It is clearly obvious she does not like or want to do anything that has to do with law enforcement. Council members should do what is best for the city at the time even if it goes against one’s personal beliefs at the time. Remember you were elected to help the community not to put the city in an 8 million dollar hole, but I guess in her younger days Martinez did help the community.

  • Cynthia Ward

    I am no fan of Trump, in fact I stick to local issues precisely to AVOID dealing with him to the extent possible. So why is just anon constantly hijacking local issues reports to bah on Trump, someone not mentioned in any way in this article? Can we PLEASE keep the comments relevant to the articles and issues?

    • justanon

      I would appreciate that sentiment if you EVER called out LFOldTimer or Verifiedsane out on their constant nasty digs at Hillary/Obama or the Democrats, but funny, you never do.

      You, like ALL good Republican’s are a hypocrite.

      • verifiedsane

        ignored…. 🙂

    • LFOldTimer

      This is the reason that verified and I have refused to engage justanon’s rants. Nobody wants the comment sections hijacked by off-topic nonsense. Justanon is a provocateur who just likes to pick fights. I’m no longer biting.

      • justanon

        Yep, you bigots stick together.

        • verifiedsane

          ignored…….. 🙂

  • justanon

    Santa Ana should definitely keep this a jail and volunteer to house the trump crime family and ‘friends’.

    What would be more fitting than locking up that corrupt, treasonous, immigrant bashing, bigoted buffoon in an former ICE jail?

    Now that would be some real and poetic justice.

    #LOCKHIMUP!

    • verifiedsane

      Ignored for attack and hate speech…. 🙂

    • LFOldTimer

      Claptrap open to easy repudiation but put on ignore in the interest of the VOC comment board.

      • justanon

        Ha, ha, ha you’ve got nothin’, you trump-chumps keep clinging to his lies, but the truth keeps coming and keeps leaving you with egg-all-over-your-face.

        When will you ever learn?

  • Joe

    Does this mean if the city hadn’t decided to phase out the ICE contract that ICE would not have cancelled the contract?

    And if the $11 million per year of revenue was still coming in from the ICE contract instead of this USM contract, what would the budget deficits for this year and next have looked like then?

    • LFOldTimer

      It’s the strangest logic, Joe.

      Apparently the City of SA won’t show any sympathy or allegiance towards citizen criminals since they will gladly house 173 of them in their jail.

      They only show sympathy and allegiance towards foreign criminals who are in the country illegally by cancelling the ICE contract which generated $3 million more in revenue each year! ha. Go figure.

      Why do they even bother flying the American flag in their council chambers? A council member should make a motion to remove the US flag from their chambers and to discontinue pledging allegiance to the flag at the start of their meetings.

      I bet the majority of the council would vote in favor. ha.

      • verifiedsane

        LA made $1.3B in illegal immigrant welfare payouts in just 2 years

        http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/08/03/la-made-1-3b-in-illegal-immigrant-welfare-payouts-in-just-2-years.html

        does anyone has to wonder or ask why there is no enforcement….answer: money and corruption

        • justanon

          And bingo!

          There’s the REAL reason you and LFOldBigot are always commenting on Santa Ana, because of the “illegals”.

          Yep, bagging on Santa Ana to get your racist ‘ideas’ out there. It doesn’t matter what the question is, when it comes to Santa Ana the answer is always: “illegals”.

          FYI Fox ‘News’ chump, that ‘story’ doesn’t back up its claims with facts (I know, not a problem for right-wing nut jobs), but they do give this quote:

          “​The county also allows illegal immigrant parents with children born in the United States to seek welfare and food stamp benefits.”

          I know most Fox’News’ watchers aren’t too bright, but even YOU should be able to figure out that the “children” are US CITIZENS and thus ANY payments they receive are legitimate and aren’t being made to “illegals”.

          Oops, fooled by Fox again. When will you EVER learn?

          • verifiedsane

            ignored….for being completely clueless…the fact the you are continually arguing with yourself is a definite symptom of serious mental illness…you need to seek help and intervention 🙂

          • justanon

            “you are continually arguing with yourself ”

            Ha, ha, ha, is there any wonder you’re so … dupable? You can’t even tell the difference between fact-checking and argument.

            Hey chump, you’ve been pwned!

          • LFOldTimer

            Claptrap open to easy repudiation but placed on ignore in the interest of the VOC comment board.

          • justanon

            Ha, ha, ha, there’s an old saying; Put-up or shut-up.

            LFOldBigot believes any old BS as long as it’s right-wing BS, what a rube!

          • verifiedsane

            It appears the ignored one is afraid of being deported 🙂

          • LFOldTimer

            I’m dumbfounded by any US citizen or immigrant who obtained citizenship through legal means that would support giving US tax dollars or free services to illegal aliens when there are so many Americans in need.

            Some morons think that illegals are not entitled to welfare or free services. Nothing is farther from the truth. The illegal parents of an anchor baby get welfare and free medical. All illegal aliens under 19 are automatically entitled to Medi-Cal. All get free police and fire services. Free treatment in the ER.

            Looks like the DOJ is going to finally crack down on sanctuary cities. It’s about damn time. City officials who promote protecting illegals should be imprisoned for aiding and abetting or harboring – which is a clear violation of immigration laws.

    • Joe

      Well that escalated quickly. I was really just curious about additional facts regarding this situation. How much longer until the loan on the building is paid?

  • LFOldTimer

    Amazing.

    I’ve never witnessed such a disheveled or disorganized government operation. It’s like they don’t know what they’re going to do from one week to the next. Crisis management of self-imposed crises. Like the F-Troop of municipal governments. But the entertainment is second to none.

    • justanon

      “the entertainment is second to none”

      Oh it comes in waaaaaay behind the trump clown show. That lying, ignorant, buffoon trump has turned the US Presidency into a joke of a reality show.

      Every day is a new sh*t-storm!

      • verifiedsane

        One trick hate pony justadiaperboy, ignored as usual….

  • David Zenger

    Like little kids who refuse to come in at bed time.