Supervisors squash idea of regional sex offender facility in South Tahoe

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Any ideas about a regional sex offender facility being established in South Lake Tahoe were squashed Tuesday by the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors.

District 5 Supervisor Sue Novasel led the charge to immediately stop the process with the board voting 4-1 to direct staff not to proceed with pursuing a grant that could have refurbished the existing juvenile treatment center, located at 1041 Al Tahoe Boulevard, and turned it into a facility that could handle incarcerated youth sex offenders, among other offenses.

“The process has to change here and now,” Novasel said during the meeting. “This is not OK. We’re a very small community … for so many reasons this is a no for me. I think we need to make a clear statement today.”

Supervisor George Turnboo agreed and said he spoke with other county leaders to get more input.

“There’s a lot of people really against this,” Turnboo said. “I’ve spoken with the sheriff and district attorney and they both said ‘no.’”

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 823 in September that directs the closure of the Division of Juvenile Justice facilities within the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation effective July 1, 2023 and the closure of intake for new cases as of July 1.

That means the county has the responsibility of detention, programming and treatment, and will get annual state funding to fulfill the new duties.

The state, through the Board of State and Community Corrections, is awarding up to four grants in the amount of $1 million to counties planning to operate a regional facility. The funds are to be used for infrastructure upgrades so that appropriate programming and treatment space is available for long term detention and treatment.

County staff in the agenda said the intent of the legislation is to create an opportunity for county probation departments to create a local response for youth who would otherwise be ordered by the court to DJJ, including those requiring secure rehabilitation programming that meets the specific and individualized needs.

Supervisors heard a presentation on the matter from Chief Probation Officer Brian Richart, who, in accordance with board policy as a department head, is authorized to apply for the grant. He said the state is looking to have a few regional facilities and incarcerated kids throughout northern California would be sent to the Tahoe facility. Between 60-70% of youth committed to DJJ have been so committed as a result of sexually-based offenses, the county said.

In recent history, the county said it has had approximately three youth committed to a DJJ facility at one time.

Richart urged supervisors to wait a month for more information on the program before they decided a regional facility was not in the county’s best interest.

The majority of the board didn’t care to wait for more information and wanted to wash their hands of it.

Once Richart was finished with his presentation, Novasel was eager to put forth a motion to stop the process.

Before the board voted, during public comment South Lake Tahoe Mayor Tamara Wallace chimed in and strongly opposed the idea.

“We do not want this facility in our community,” Wallace said. “We are adamantly opposed to this type of facility. We will fight this in every way possible.”

Other arguments against the idea included the location of the facility. It is adjacent to South Tahoe Middle School and in close proximity with the Boys and Girls Club of Lake Tahoe.

Novasel’s motion was quickly seconded by Supervisor Lori Parlin. Board Chair John Hidahl agreed with Richart that the board should wait for more information but he was the only vote against the motion.

If the board decided to pursue the grant, the existing juvenile center would continue to be operated as a detention facility which would be consistent with the purpose and intent of the federal funding that was used to build the facility. As a result, the county said it would no longer be required to ‘buy-out’ the facility from the Department of Justice, potentially saving approximately $4.2 million.

The agenda item was listed as an update, that the board would hear a presentation and give feedback to county staff on how to proceed.

There was some discussion if the board could even take action since the agenda called it an update, but County Counsel David Livingston said the supervisors were within their rights and there would be no violation.