Supervisors vote to shutter Juvenile Treatment Center in South Lake Tahoe

The South Lake Tahoe Juvenile Treatment Center is located at 1041 Al Tahoe Boulevard.
Bill Rozak/Tahoe Daily Tribune

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — After seven years of analysis and discussion, and a lengthy conversation last week, supervisors unanimously approved building a new juvenile detention/multi-purpose building in Placerville and shuttering the South Lake Tahoe facility.

The Board of Supervisors is moving forward with this plan, which has been in place since 2014, despite a new option being presented on Tuesday, Nov. 2, to possibly re-scope the project and repurpose a previously received grant to avoid new construction and renovate the Juvenile Treatment Facility in South Lake Tahoe.

Chief Administrative Officer Don Ashton said in conversations with the Board of State and Community Corrections, the state regulatory body which provides oversight to both jails and juvenile halls, that due to changes in the economic climate since the project was initiated the county may want to look into a renovation rather than new construction and possibly save $6-$8 million.

The county’s Chief Probation Officer Brian Richart disagreed and questioned whether there would be any savings and recommended supervisors forge ahead with the original plan.

District 5 Supervisor Sue Novasel said she had just heard of the new option the morning of the meeting and discussed whether the board should delay action and explore the new idea. She said the existing building in Tahoe does not work for kids.

“It looks and is, for all purposes, it’s a jail,” she said.

District Attorney Vann Pierson said the county has the third lowest violent crime rate in the state and juvenile crime has gone down.

“Right now we have six kids in our facilities,” he said. “Crime has gone down and we have fewer in custody.”

Pierson felt supervisors should explore the opportunity to save money and see if the Tahoe building could be modified for half the cost of a new facility to make it, “more of what we need it to be.”

County Auditor/Controller Joe Harn recommended the board spend money for a consultant, about $600,000, to look at the Tahoe renovation, take no action and give the CAO a timeline of when to return the discussion to the board.

Ashton and Richert both agreed that having troubled kids housed in Tahoe worked better than they thought it would after the closure of the old Placerville facility in 2019. But Richert said it’s more expensive to operate in Tahoe and that his overtime budget has expanded 30-50%.

Ashton told supervisors the most prudent thing to do is explore the option.

“It’s a $10 million decision,” Ashton said.

If supervisors wanted to go down the exploration path, the Placerville project would have been put on hold. The renovation must have provided the same type of facility and programs that a new facility in Placerville would provide.

The JTC in South Lake Tahoe was built with $4 million in grant funds from the State Board of Corrections and approximately $4.6 million in county funds in 2004. One of the grant conditions was the county must continue operating the facility as a detention center through 2034 or pay back the funds.

In July 2021, the county received tentative approval to have those grant funds reinvested into the Placerville project which allows the county to buy out the United States Department of Justice’s interest in the South Lake Tahoe facility for $4 million.

By transferring funds, the DOJ holds a similar interest in the new facility and the county will be required to operate it as a detention center for 30 years. If the county chooses to discontinue its use as a detention facility, it would be required to return the funds.

Novasel briefly brought up the idea of the county returning to operating two facilities, and Ashton agreed that having a small satellite office in Tahoe would be ideal, but is not fiscally responsible.

If the county chose to renovate, it would have to return $9.6 million in grant funds earmarked for the new construction.

Supervisors voted 5-0 to move ahead with new construction.

The county estimates new construction will require $18 million, at a minimum due to construction cost increases.

The county will transfer approximately $5.6 million from Capital Projects to the juvenile hall which would decrease the unallocated Capital Project designation to $15.3 million, and increase the juvenile hall designation to approximately $7.3 million.

The new Placerville facility will be approximately 14,000-square feet on county-owned land at 300 Fair Lane. The facility will provide housing, program, healthcare, custody, administrative and support space, visitation, food service, and a vehicle sally port and will house up to 20 male and female youth offenders.

The program and support spaces are expected to include a multipurpose/contact visitation area; shared dayroom; medical examination and group therapy rooms; bakery; kitchen; laundry area; intake and booking area; and public lobby. The project will also provide an outdoor recreation area, as well as staff and visitor parking spaces. It is the intent that the design will incorporate considerable natural light and a simplified housing design that will contain “home-like” features and finishes.

There are no plans yet for the existing building in South Lake Tahoe.

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