A new jail in Redwood City designed to supply more than 500 beds and a constellation of social services to San Mateo County might end up costing the county a lot more than expected, even if an area legislator passes legislation to help the county secure an $80 million state grant.
Representatives of the Board of State and Community Corrections say they're unlikely to throw money at a county that bypassed all their stop signs and asked for help after it had already broken ground.
That means the county could have to bankroll the project with money borrowed from lease revenue bonds, using the building as collateral. County officials tried that approach for several other capital projects — including a crime lab built more than a decade ago for which they're still making debt service payments.
Unfortunately, Curtis Hill, the executive officer of the Board of State and Community Corrections, said San Mateo County might have to finance its jail in the same way, since it began construction without ensuring that a state grant was forthcoming.
"The state holds the title to that building, and they get real prickly as far as your need to go through and check off the box," he warned.
So far, San Mateo County hasn't checked off many boxes. It began construction on the hope that state agencies would reimburse it for roughly half the cost of the $165 million project. To secure that money, though, it will have to pass a two-pronged piece of legislation in Sacramento. Part of the bill would extend permission for grants to be applied retroactively, and part would erase an old requirement mandating that counties receiving grants agree to serve as home to state-run "re-entry" facilities for inmates.
State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, is vigorously pushing such a proposal through the state Legislature. It goes to the Assembly Public Safety Committee today.
But even if the bill passes, there are myriad policy issues to consider, Curtis Hill of the Corrections Board said.
"These are competitive grants, and the people that come in have been given a specific set of rules to follow," he explained, noting that the Legislature were to rewrite the law for one county, it could open the door for lawsuits from another.
Hill said he is fairly sure that the state grant is a long shot for San Mateo County.
"No matter what San Mateo does," he said, "the biggest problem is that they started the project."
But Sheriff Greg Munks remains "cautiously optimistic," noting that nearby San Joaquin County might rescind a state grant it received several years ago for $80 million — the exact sum that San Mateo needs.
"So the best-case scenario is we get $80 million, and the worst case is we get nothing from the state," Munks said. "We've already factored that into our budget going forward."