The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors met Tuesday to discuss how to spend more than $60 million in added tax revenue the County will receive from the passage of Measure A last year.
More than 30 members of the public addressed the board with ideas on how the money should be allocated. Suggestions included new mental health intervention services, upgraded library programs, public art projects, a bicycle program coordinator and restoring an independent county parks department.
A contingent of speakers holding pink signs that read "No Jail Tax" brought up the county's new $155-million jail, and accused the board of designating Measure A funds to bankroll the project, which will require an estimated $30 million annually to operate.
Leading up to the November election, county officials maintained that Measure A's half-cent sales tax increase, which takes effect April 1, was necessary "to preserve essential county services."
At Tuesday morning's meeting, Occupy Redwood City organizer James Lee said the costly new jail was among the county's "menu options" to receive Measure A funding.
"We're here to basically ask the board to prove us wrong," Lee said. "We don't need this jail to begin with."
San Mateo County resident Nathalie Fowler implored the board to use Measure A funds to bolster community programs, instead of building a new jail complex.
"Make me proud of the place where I come from," Fowler said. "Use Measure A funds for progression, not regression, if for no other reason than - you promised."
Isaac Ontiveros of Californians for a Responsible Budget (CURB) said the board asked for community input, but no one in the room was asking for a new jail.
"You can abandon this project," Ontiveros said. "You could save the county millions of dollars."
Supervisor Adrienne Tissier was the only board member to address concerns over the jail, insisting that "public safety is a number-one priority for the community" and that a new jail was necessary to house many of the re-entry and treatment programs that some speakers were asking the county to back with Measure A funds.
"Clearly, the jail is already underway," Tissier said.
Supervisors Dave Pine, Warren Slocum, Don Horsley and Carole Groom brought up their preferences for Measure A funding, which ranged from bolstering health services for the isolated community of Pescadero, to restoring the county's faltering park system.
On suggestion Groome made was school safety, and the idea of using funds to place police officers at school sites for increased safety. The suggestion elicited shocks and gasps from many in the audience.
After the meeting, Lee said it was "disappointing" that the board members chose not to address what so many community members showed up to talk about.
"It was clear that the board thought avoiding the question of the jail tax was the best strategy," he said.
Lee said that he and a broad coalition of community stakeholders will continue to attend future board meetings and lobby in opposition of the new jail.
"There are still other avenues to pursue," he said.
In particular, Lee said many Occupy members have environmental quality concerns about the site for the new jail. He also suggested the county could explore alternative options to a new jail, such as electronic monitoring systems.
What do you think of the Board's ideas on how to spend Measure A funds? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.
- Bay City News contributed to this report
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