Calif. Jail Plan May Be Scrapped
(04/20/2011)

WHITEWATER, Calif. — A majority of Riverside County supervisors support a proposal to scrap planning on the $300 million detention center in Whitewater.

Supervisors voted unanimously to direct staff to update the county's capital improvement plan and will make a formal decision in May on whether to end the project.

Supervisors John Benoit and Marion Ashley said the county can no longer afford to build and operated a regional jail. At $78 million a year, supervisors said they should not embark on construction projects without a funding source for ongoing operations.

The idea is a complete reversal of a process over the past decade that has cost Riverside County taxpayers about $23 million in land acquisition and planning.

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Even as local organizations and elected leaders voiced concerns, county officials argued that a 7,200-bed jail along Interstate 10 was the best way to address law enforcement needs.

That momentum continued even as the economy plummeted and as county staff warned supervisors that borrowing $300 million would limit their ability to fund anything else until at least 2020.

But Benoit recently conceded the county must change course.

“We just don't have the money,” he said at a town hall meeting. “We obviously still need additional jail bed space. We need it sooner than later. If we have to wait until we can invest $300 million to do that, we're going to have a huge mountain to climb.”

The announcement was welcomed by the elected leaders and community members who have argued a jail in Whitewater would damage the desert’s tourism industry and would bring more criminal elements into the area.

Supervisors may now consider alternatives to add jail capacity. Benoit said expanding existing jails would be cheaper and allow the county to add beds faster, whereas building the $300 million jail could tie up the county's bonding capacity for many years, he said.

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