Attorneys at the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office in Santa Maria take on some of the toughest cases in the county and now attorneys are advocating for themselves, as they try to update offices they say are outdated and falling apart.
Last year, attorneys went before county supervisors asking them to consider allowing them to move into the old Santa Maria Police Department building as a solution to their infrastructure problems. While plans for that don’t seem to be moving forward, this week, the county did allocate money to help make attorneys feel more comfortable for the time being.
“Our staff is genuinely afraid of that location. Public defender staff are afraid of this location and there are reasons to be,” Chief Deputy District Attorney for Santa Barbara County Mag Nicola said before the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors back in May of 2018.
Attorneys from the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s and Public Defenders Offices tried to paint a picture for supervisors about what they called the “dangerous” conditions they’re working in. Problems like graffiti, electrical fires and dead animals stuck in the ceilings for days.
“How would you feel if you walked into your lawyer’s office, your doctor’s office, or your CPA and the first thing you smell is a dead animal? Do you think for one minute you would think that professional was there to represent you competently?” Public Defender S.E. Ballard asked the supervisors.
One year later, Nicola says some things haven’t changed.
“Right now, we’re still facing issues of the ceiling tiles dropping on our staff on occasion. We’d like to rectify those situations whenever we can and we certainly still have space limitations. Too many people crammed into too small a space,” he explained.
Many of their safety concerns have been addressed, like a fence being installed to keep homeless from sleeping inside the courthouse complex overnight as well as more security features on the doors.
On Tuesday, county supervisors allocated $35,000 for building updates – $15,000 will go to repairs, $10,000 for a new kitchen and $10,000 for architectural design that will analyze a potential addition to the building.
“Right now, we have many attorneys doubled up, meaning two attorneys in one small office and it’s a very difficult working environment. It’s difficult to have confidential conversations with two different attorneys talking to two different agencies or talking to victims,” Nicola said.
Santa Barbara County Supervisor Gregg Hart said in a statement, “I am pleased to have secured funding for facility improvements that will enhance the working environment for the hardworking deputy district attorneys, investigators, and professional staff of the district attorney’s office. This funding will help the professionals who work every day to advance public safety, serve victims, and prevent crime.”
The building the District Attorney and Public Defenders work out of are owned by the state, adding to more complexity when it comes to finding funding and solutions to their infrastructure problems.
Nicola says they still need more space and he hopes to find a solution soon as their caseload and staff size will be increasing as the population in North County continues to grow.
These funds come in part from the county’s Cannabis Tax Revenue funds, which is estimated to generate over $5 million next year.