www.montereycountynow.com June 20-26, 2024 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY 13 There is a new sheriff in town, and she has a vision to clean up the Monterey County Jail. By “new,” I am referring to Sheriff Tina Nieto, elected in 2022. She ran partly on a campaign platform of promising to correct problems— including deadly problems—in the jail. She quickly learned they are harder to correct than they might first appear. “This has been a difficult couple years. We’ve gone through our crises,” Nieto said on May 29 in the Monterey County Board of Supervisors chambers. A sea of staffers wearing wide-brimmed sheriff’s hats sat behind her as Nieto and Undersheriff Keith Boyd made their pitch to the supervisors for additional funding in the 2024-25 fiscal year. (The board is set to approve a budget on Thursday, June 20.) “To run a sheriff’s office, it takes more than good intentions,” Nieto said. “Good intentions are great, but it takes action. My people behind me will do the work. It takes your part”—that you is the five supervisors, who hold the purse strings—“as part of that team, to ensure we get the financial support to do the things we need to do to get the safest community we can.” A safe community includes many dimensions, not just the jail, but the jail has long been top of mind. The sheriff’s office is unusual in that beyond providing deputies in the field, responding to reports of crime, it is also tasked with running a carceral facility—and since the state prison system underwent a massive overcrowding reduction effort, the county jail has had to operate more like a prison (more felonies than misdemeanors, and longer stays). In 2013, incarcerated people in the jail filed a class-action lawsuit over conditions. Two years later, the plaintiffs settled with the County of Monterey and its healthcare contractor in the jail, Wellpath. Last year, a federal judge ruled that issues in the jail remained unresolved and the County and Wellpath were violating the settlement. That brings us to the present, and Nieto’s pitch to the Board of Supervisors. They are asking for more funding in hopes of staffing up sufficiently so they can comply with the terms. “It’s the humane thing to do for our incarcerated population, and it also is a budgetary issue, to save us money in the long term if we don’t come into compliance,” Nieto said. The Sheriff’s Office has already received a recommended bump in funds from county administrators, who suggest allocating $162.8 million, up from $155 million. Nieto and Boyd were asking on May 29 for $2.7 million more, covering 23 positions—of those, 21 are related to the Corrections Bureau. Under Nieto’s leadership, the Corrections Bureau has already expanded its compliance division from one person to a team with a commander and two sergeants (one reassigned from the jail). They’re asking for another sergeant and two civilian positions (an analyst and office assistant) to track conditions and compliance. They are also asking for four new deputy positions to work in blocks where incarcerated people are housed, and four in the intake area. I wanted to get the lay of the land on how this might make a difference for health and safety, and on June 17, Boyd—along with Capt. Rebecca Smith and Chief Deputy Garrett Sanders— guided me on a tour. (This is the first time the jail has been open to members of the press for at least nine years; the preceding Steve Bernal administration was a black box.) In the intake area at about 12:30pm, a woman is in the process of being booked. A Probation officer (from the arresting agency) stands by as a jail deputy pats her down. She then goes through a body scanner to look for contraband, before entering a medical exam room with a Wellpath nurse, the deputy still standing by. “This is a very high-risk area,” Boyd says. “We want to move people either out of the jail or into a housing unit.” There are four deputies assigned here, but that means if there’s an issue, deputies get called away from elsewhere in the jail—there is nobody to backfill. The budget amount requested would cover a fifth deputy in the intake area on each shift. The bare minimum expectation we should all have for people who are incarcerated is that they can expect to survive. If $2.7 million can change that, it’s well worth it. Sara Rubin is the Weekly’s editor. Reach her at sara@montereycountynow.com. Jail Break The sheriff asks for more county funds, with hope of finally fixing the jail. By Sara Rubin Slow Track…Squid plans to ooze over to the Laguna Seca Recreation Area this weekend to watch some IndyCar action on the racetrack (see story, p. 36). The cars might be fast, but the transition of this county-owned facility to new management is not. In July 2023, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors enthusiastically voted for a new agreement, approving a contract with nonprofit Friends of Laguna Seca to run the track for up to 55 years, if certain conditions were met. But Friends missed the first set of conditions, which were originally expected to take effect before the contract would kick in on Jan. 1, 2024. The deadline was extended to July 1, which is getting closer and still—the concessionaire has yet to show the $6 million required for the transition to take effect. “We still have faith they’re going to come through, we just don’t know at this time if the July 1 date is going to be hit,” says County Parks Chief Bryan Flores. “It’s still kind of a wait-and-see. Now it’s just waiting on the money.” Meanwhile, it’s business as usual at the track, and the transition is on hold. (Not) All Aboard…Squid was surprised to receive a perfectly pleasant press release on June 11 from Monterey-Salinas Transit, announcing new board leadership, with Mary Ann Carbone as chair and Lorraine Worthy as vice-chair. “The announcement was made at MST’s monthly Board of Directors meeting on June 10,” the press release said. Squid would use a phrase more like “internecine battle” than “announcement” to describe the conversation on June 10. Outgoing chair Anna Velazquez had convened a subcommittee with Worthy and Kim Shirley to recommend nominees. While convention would have had them recommend simply moving Carbone from the vice chair role into the chair position, they voiced concern about what her dual role as Sand City mayor would mean for the future of MST’s SURF! Busway project—what if conflicts meant she would have to recuse? Instead, they nominated Jeff Baron of Carmel for the chairperson position for two years. “I was just blown away at how you tried to justify that. I just feel it’s very disrespectful,” said Mike LeBarre, who instead supported the CarboneWorthy team. Luis Alejo piled on to tell the nominating committee, “I not only find it disrespectful to try to snub her. I also think it’s discriminatory,” citing her Indigenous heritage. (No mention of the fact that Baron is gay, but Squid is not here for the oppression olympics, just the political antics.) The board eventually voted 7-5 to appoint Carbone as chair. Ed Smith attempted a kumbaya moment (“the spirit is we are a team”) but the bus had already left the station. the local spin SQUID FRY THE MISSION OF MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY IS TO INSPIRE INDEPENDENT THINKING AND CONSCIOUS ACTION, ETC. “It’s the humane thing to do.” Send Squid a tip: squid@montereycountynow.com