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Grand jury report critical of safe parking site, other county facilities OK

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Posted at 8:55 PM, Jun 13, 2023

The San Luis Obispo County Grand Jury in its annual inspection report was critical of the Oklahoma Avenue safe parking site but found county-run jails and detention facilities to be primarily up to standard.

The grand jury visited and inspected — as required by California law — all jails, holding cells, detention facilities and other select spaces within the county from September through December of 2022.

While primarily positive, the report, released June 12, did find “safety hazards” for inmates and staff residing at the Honor Farm of the County Jail due to the proximity of the safe parking site on Oklahoma Avenue. The site, which opened in 2021 and has been criticized by some, is slated to be phased out, although no clear timeline has been given by the county.

“Materials — including illegal substances, drug paraphernalia, and human waste — have been tossed over the fence” from the parking site and landed “within the confines of the Honor Farm,” including a bottle of urine, the report said.

The report recommended improved barriers and security between the two facilities by the end of December 2023.

A separate report by the grand jury specifically on the Oklahoma Avenue Parking Village, titled “Safe Parking? Oklahoma is not OK!” was critical of the site. That report stated, among other things, that the parking village was established “without a clear understanding of the requirements and risks” and “without a plan to operate and maintain” it.

In the grand jury’s facility-inspection report summary, the grand jury said of other county-run facilities that it “was satisfied with both the management of the facilities and the professionalism of the staff in their day-to-day operations” and found that public-safety personnel in the county do “excellent work” despite ongoing challenges related to Covid-19 and the “significant” limitations when it comes to staffing, budget and space.

The report contains observations, findings and recommendations based on the grand jury’s inspections, which include “notable opportunities for improvement,” the report said. Read the full 28-page report, “Inspection Report for San Luis Obispo County Law Enforcement and Detention Facilities,” here.

Oklahoma Safe Parking Site

While the safe parking site on Oklahoma Avenue was well-intentioned, the grand jury found that it evolved into a “[c]ounty-sanctioned homeless encampment” and the operational adjustments to problems at the site were “poorly improvised” and not part of any clear plan.

The report found the parking village to be in unsanitary condition in part because of the county’s “failure to provide the basic utilities necessary for acceptable living conditions.”

The report also found the site to be unsafe due to criminal activity and drug use spurred by a lack of adequate security.

The grand jury made recommendations to improve the immediate conditions at the site — including the removal of all minor children, 24/7 security by a licensed contractor and the implementation of adequate necessary services. The grand jury also said that the county must establish an official closing date for the parking village by Sept. 1, 2023.

The county released the following statement in response to the report:

“As always, we are grateful for the thorough review of the Grand Jury and its report. We appreciate the recommendations, many of which have already been implemented. While it is always useful to look back, the County’s forward leaning focus is on providing a compassionate exit plan for all the current guests at the site. Those who find themselves in a position of needing a safe parking location, represent a broad spectrum of the homeless, and many vigorously hold on to their version of the American Dream, a vehicle that they call home. We cannot forget the success stories born out this project, and we hope those will not be overshadowed or ignored. We celebrate those who took advantage of the services offered and were able to find more permanent housing after being offered a respite and temporary stay at the site.”

California Men’s Colony

The grand jury did not find any significant issues with the facilities of the California Men’s Colony — a medium-security prison housing roughly 3,330 inmates across two facilities.

Although the grand jury did find that security concerns persist regarding the northwest corner of the West Facility, where the “potential” remains for contraband to be thrown over the fence and thus smuggled into the facility, the report said. The West Facility houses lower-risk inmates.

The report said that the scheduled closure of the prison’s West Facility — “likely” to close at the end of 2023 — will add to the prison’s “challenges for planning and resource allocation.”

The firefighting work program through CalFire will stay active despite the scheduled closure. Approximately 50 inmates are in the program currently.

The report noted the absence of air conditioning in the prison’s East Facility which has 60-year-old cell blocks, although the report said the inspected cells were clean and well-lit. The East Facility houses the “higher-risk” inmates.

The report said that there is minimal gang-related activity and that there appears to be mutual respect between inmates and correctional officers.

County Jail Facilities

County Jail facilities inspected by the grand jury include the Main Jail, West Jail Facility, Men’s Honor Farm, Women’s Jail, also called the Kansas Facility, and the Medical Programs Unit.

The report noted that staff members appeared to be dedicated and committed to their work and the facilities to be “extremely clean,” up to modern standards and efficiently run.

Mental health staff availability increasing to 24/7 and the reinstating of certain programs following lessened Covid-19 restrictions have helped the county manage the jail’s severely mentally ill (SMI) population, the report said. The county jail’s SMI population is now 28%, up from 18% in 2019 when data was first collected.

While the Sheriff’s Office has continued to improve its care of SMI individuals, the office said in a written response to the grand jury that “severely mentally ill … individuals belong in a therapeutic environment” and that the jail has taken on responsibilities that should “reside with the State and County Behavioral Health Departments in some cases.”