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Sonoma County Board of Supervisors delays vote on Sierra Youth Center

By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A majority of Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday voiced support for a proposal to outsource the county’s residential probation program for teenage girls to a private operator.

Sierra Youth Center (PD File)

The shift ran into strong pushback, however, from Supervisors Shirlee Zane and Susan Gorin, who said plans for career training were not on par with the courses offered to troubled boys under county care.

Zane said she would oppose the deal at the board’s meeting next week if additional coursework and funding weren’t added into to the final proposal.

“If they don’t address the parity issue, they don’t have my vote,” Zane said in an interview after a nearly two-hour board hearing on the matter.

Supervisors Efren Carrillo, David Rabbitt and Mike McGuire, meanwhile, voiced approval for the cost-saving move. It was initiated by the board last year — after years of wrangling over the fate of Sierra Youth Center, the girls probation camp — to address the center’s dwindling population of girls and its high-fixed cost, at $1.6 million a year.

The replacement program, to be run at half to a third the cost by a Sacramento-based group home provider, would satisfy most county goals, the three supervisors said.

“This is a decision that we’ve agonized over,” McGuire said. “We have to remember that many counties have simply thrown up their hands and done away with their programs.”

A board vote was postponed to next Tuesday to allow more time to review the contract with Crossroads Treatment Centers, the nonprofit group home operator chosen for the new program.

The 34-year-old Sierra Youth Center, tucked in a corner of the juvenile justice campus off Highway 12 in the Valley of the Moon, is still scheduled to close Thursday. Its three remaining girls were being returned to outside homes this week. The center’s staff of 10 are all being moved to the nearby juvenile hall.

A final board decision would follow a series of moves by the county in recent years to outsource services to companies and nonprofits to save money.

Lower salaries paid by private sector employers underpin many of the deals. County correctional counselors at Sierra started at $25 per hour, officials said Tuesday, while Crossroads representatives said their residential care staff start at $10 to $14 per hour.

“It is troubling when we start outsourcing all of these services,” said Zane, who has opposed some of the program moves but led others.

Most of Tuesday’s board debate centered on the scope of career training offered to girls under the new program. Probation officials had tapped $65,000 from their budget to cover a pair of courses, in office and computer skills and culinary work.

But Zane and Gorin argued for a broader plan taking in coursework in the trades and other vocational training.

County education officials said they were poised to deliver on the larger set of courses and career opportunities once the program had a chance to get under way.

But advocates pushed for more immediate details, plus additional spending to bring girls’ career programs closer to the average of $20,000 spent for each boy under county residential supervision. Gorin called the push an “attempt, right here today, to think differently about the programs that we’re providing our young women.”

“Why is it so hard for the board to express this? We want equal opportunity for the girls” said Michael Canar, an Oakmont resident who was involved in a campaign to save the youth center last year.

Carrillo and Rabbitt took issue with the comparison to spending on boys, noting there are at least twice as many as boys as girls under residential probation in the county and that boys often have more serious and violent crimes.

“It’s a different population,” Carrillo said.

Rabbitt argued that identical career classes for both sexes would not necessarily achieve parity.

“The parity issue is that everyone has the same opportunity,” he said. “It doesn’t mean everyone has to do the same thing.”

The lobbying prompted swift moves Tuesday afternoon by probation officials to seek additional job training elements for the proposal. Chief Probation Officer Bob Ochs said he would recommend an additional $30,000 in educational spending for the first year of the program.

“We heard the response today,” Ochs said. “I think we’re going to do whatever we can to respond to the concerns.”

You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or brett.wilkison@pressdemocrat.com.





6 Responses to “Sonoma County Board of Supervisors delays vote on Sierra Youth Center”

  1. GAJ says:

    Bear, you seem to think that any job is a person’s final job rather than a stepping stone to an even better job.

    Right now we are spending $133,000 per MONTH to supervise THREE GIRLS.

    If you can’t see that is completely ridiculous then you clearly don’t understand the meaning of “unsustainable.”

    The proposed costs of $44,000/month still sound ridiculously over the top to me.

    Supervising these 3 girls is costing us 1/3 of the entire County Road Maintenance Budget.

    Priorities man, priorities!

  2. bear says:

    Correction (no pun intended) but $14/hour is the TOP of the pay range. Let’s call it $12/hour for the average employee, who keeps criminals off your street. With no extra benefits?

    How many such jobs would you have to work to rent a dump in Sonoma County?

    Regardless of “housemates?”

    And pay other expenses, like health insurance, life insurance, whatever?

    Not a family-friendly income, is it?

  3. GAJ says:

    Of course you can live in Santa Rosa on pay starting from $10 to $14/hr.

    Thousands do it every day.

    Ever hear of housemates?

    Sheesh.

  4. bear says:

    Who can afford to live in Sonoma County on $10/hour? No benefits, I bet. No pensions for sure.

    Costs will go up, as the “3 girls” already reflects uncaring incompetence, and the private contractor will screw you more every year.

    Why have any juvenile care at all? Just release them all into the community.

    No cost, no problem?

  5. Nora Gonzales says:

    Wow, a major deficit move! 3 girls in a juvinile hall program closed. Why wasn’t this done years ago. Now on to the big issues. Considering the continuation of the “employee good citizen green award certificates.”

  6. Frank says:

    If you want professionals, you need to adequate salaries to draw qualified people.

    If you want babysitters, on the other hand, who will have no positive effects on the kids for whom the county is paying so much, hire an outfit that pays its counselors as little as $10 an hour.