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Mendocino County Today: July 2, 2012

UKIAH'S DEPENDENCE on what looked like free state redevelopment money was a bad idea, according to the Mendocino County Grand Jury and dissolution of the state's redevelopment agencies is a “real nightmare” for the “Successor Agency,” aka the Ukiah City Council and such Swiss watch organizations at the Ukiah School District and various other County entities as nightmarish as the state program. Midway into its investigation of the transition from the state to a Ukiah-led Mendo apparatus, the state de-funded redevelopment agencies, leaving Ukiah to figure out how to continue to fund its share of such major boondoggles as site prep for a Costco and the proposed County Courthouse, the Orchard Avenue Bridge, and the Rorabaugh Gym. Millions of dollars in bonds with Ukiah’s name on them are still outstanding totaling some $177 million — comparable, perhaps, in dollar amount to the value of State Street from one end to the other. The grand jury recommends that:

"CITY STAFF should present the Oversight Board with a written timeline of milestones and deadlines.

“CITY STAFF should immediately invite the County auditor to participate in all future meetings of the board.

“CITY STAFF should explain their presentation to the board, so that all members can fully understand aspects of the dissolution process about which they are uncertain.

“CITY STAFF should present the board with a work plan for economic development projects they intend to continue.”

THE GRAND JURY concludes by stating that it is “acutely aware that the dissolution of the URA [Ukiah Redevelopment Agency] will hurt us — the goal of the URA was much-needed job creation, environmentally sustainable growth, affordable housing and the elimination of blight and economic disparity.

“THE DISSOLUTION OF RDAs is a real nightmare — it is a rush job,” the grand jury continues. “There is no blueprint for dissolution. Billions of dollars are at stake during a recession. With dissolution, many good projects go down the drain.

“THE END RESULT of the conflicting instructions from the state, along with the problems of understanding the provisions of the Supreme Court case, are making the dissolution process for Ukiah very difficult and problematic,” the report states. “We cannot end this report on a more somber note.”

NINE STATE PARKS in Mendocino and Lake counties will remain open. For now. Their funding is included in the Governor's new budget. More on this as details become known.

CALIFORNIA'S SWEEPING REALIGNMENT of its criminal justice system took effect nine months ago to address (in part) court-ordered reductions in overcrowding at state prisons. When the plan to shift thousands of inmates to county jails was unveiled local governments were promised that only those convicted of nonviolent, nonsexual and “non-serious” crimes would be moved to local lock-ups. The Associated Press first reported days after the law took effect in October that at least two dozen offenses shifting to local control could be considered serious or violent, prompting angry responses from local officials who felt blindsided. Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation last week shifting 10 crimes back to state prisons. Among them are several involving child sex offenses, selling drugs to a child in a park, seriously injuring a peace officer during an escape or while resisting arrest, and escaping from a mental hospital. But the new law also shifts four more crimes to county jails. They include possession of certain dangerous items, such as certain explosives, various knives, and exotic weapons like guns or swords hidden in walking canes, belt buckles, lipstick cases, wallets or writing pens. Check fraud and defrauding the state's food stamp program also now merit time in jail instead of prison. State Senator Mark Leno, chairman of the Senate budget committee, said the changes merely fix drafting errors that will affect a small number of criminals who should have merited jail time all along. The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation estimated that about a dozen more criminals will be affected in any given year because most of the changes were already included in previous projections. “Taxpayers will save money by having them serve time in county jail rather than in state prison,” said Leno, D-San Francisco. “We're getting smarter on crime so we can better invest limited resources on education rather than corrections, which every poll shows Californians support. And of course education is our best known crime prevention tool.” Another new law lets sheriffs release inmates up to 30 days early to comply with population caps, up from five days previously; and release inmates on electronic monitoring immediately instead of requiring them to serve at least 30 days behind bars for a misdemeanor or 60 days for a felony. Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, said in a statement that the changes mean “more un-rehabilitated criminals on the streets, serving only a tiny fraction of their sentences in jail.” Lawmakers also approved giving counties more freedom to transfer prisoners between counties because of jail crowding or if inmates need specialized care. “We're just looking for flexibility,” California State Sheriffs' Association lobbyist Nick Warner said in supporting changes that will let counties lower their jail populations. The budget for the new fiscal year that began Sunday, July 1, includes $500 million for a new round of local jail construction and more than $900 million to help counties pay for their increased cost of handling the additional criminals. Every county will get at least double the amount of state money it received in the first nine months. Brown wants to guarantee that money in the state Constitution as part of a proposal on the November ballot that also would temporarily raise sales and income taxes. The budget also begins carrying out a broad reorganization of the Corrections Department that was announced in April. Officials are looking to save money, improve poor inmate medical and mental health treatment, and end years of federal court oversight as prison crowding eases because of the shifting of criminals to local control. It includes money for three cell houses within existing prisons to house about 2,400 inmates with physical or mental disabilities or substance abuse problems. After the three dormitory-style units are built in four years, the department will close the outdated California Rehabilitation Center in the Riverside County community of Norco. It provides funding to complete the California Health Care Facility in Stockton, convert the neighboring Dewitt Nelson Youth Correctional Facility into an adult care facility; and to improve other prison medical and mental health units statewide. With the prison population declining, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst had recommended that lawmakers reject some of the construction money sought by the department. But Corrections Secretary Matthew Cate said the department needs the medical and mental health facilities to comply with court orders. The analyst also recommended that the state continue housing some inmates in private prisons in other states indefinitely as a partial alternative to building more cells in California prisons. However, the budget endorses the department's plans to return all 9,400 out-of-state inmates to California prisons by 2016.

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