City council considers uses for El Paso de Robles Youth Correctional Facility
Public agencies and non-profit organizations indicate interest
-Paso Robles City Council received a status report about possible reuses for the El Paso de Robles Youth Correction Facility at the most recent council meeting. The report was presented by Mayor Steve Martin. Martin and Councilman Steve Gregory are part of county-wide interest group for exploring the acquisition and reuse of the facility. The State of California facility, referred to locally as the “Estrella Correctional Facility” and located at 4545 Airport Road, was closed in 2009 due to a decline in youthful offenders. The facility has been vacant since then, except for a portion of the northeast quadrant occupied by Cal Fire. Public agencies and non-profit organizations have indicated an interest in re-purposing the 155-acre site. The council authorized city staff resources to explore reuse options and the interest by the State of California to surplus the property.
Community leaders, public agencies and non-profit organizations expressing interest in the project include newly-elected First District County Supervisor John Peschong, newly-elected State Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, the Paso Robles Unified School District, Women’s Shelter of San Luis Obispo County, North County Women’s Shelter, Paso Cares, Transitions Mental Health Association, Neighbor Works, Mesa Vineyard Management, Inc, San Luis Obispo County Housing Trust Fund and Homeshare SLO.
The types of reuse of the site that are being suggested include:
- A joint fire fighter training facility with Cal Fire and local fire departments.
- Commercial development to serve the users of the site, the business park to the south, and Paso Robles Airport.
- Educational and sports facilities for use by the City of Paso Robles and the Paso Robles Unified School District. The facility already has shop buildings, classrooms, and sports facilities.
- An ethanol production plant for processing agricultural waste from local wineries and breweries.
- Homeless services facility where housing, training, and medical services would help people transition out of homelessness and unemployment. There are already six homes on the property that were inhabited by corrections facility staff and their families.
- Local workforce and low-income housing.
- A maintenance facility for city transit vehicles and other transportation agencies.
- A solar power installation to serve the complex. This installation would actually generate more power than needed by this project.
Peschong, who attended the council meeting, said he is “looking forward to working with the city on plans for the facility.”
Martin, Gregory and a group of interested community leaders met in December to develop a strategy for acquisition and reuse. Community leaders included former San Luis Obispo County First District Supervisor Frank Mecham, T. Keith Gurnee (Planner, Urban Designer, for San Luis Obispo Councilman), Carlos Castaneda (an Agricultural Labor Specialist who manages the federal H2-A program) and William Howard, PhD (Professor Emeritus, California Polytechnic University of San Luis Obispo).
Martin said the project is, “a work in progress. There are a lot of interested parties to utilize a piece of land that is costing taxpayers a lot of dollars.” In the report to the council, Martin estimated that maintaining the facility is costing California taxpayers $700,000 – $900,000 every year. Martin mentioned the possibility of acquiring the facility from the state as surplus property at a nominal cost. California Government Code Section 11011.1 provides the transfer of real property to local governments, joint powers agencies or non-profit organizations.
Martin said the goal is to create a “joint powers agency” to acquire and repurpose the facility. Even thought the project includes county-wide agencies and organizations, the City of Paso Robles is taking a leadership role in exploring the acquisition of the property. According to a statement in the report, “ The most likely lead organization, and the only one equipped and positioned to function in this role is the City of El Paso de Robles.”
Local residents, Steve Brooks and Lynne Gamble, both from Paso Robles, expressed support for the project. Gamble had concerns about the homeless shelter only helping the “elite homeless.” In a private interview, Gamble said, “I have concerns that we will still have the homeless drug problem. I am for helping families and people who want help, but we need to do something about the drugs and people just hanging around.” A statement in the report, “This facility would not house hard core homeless with addictive behaviors, panhandlers, or the mentally ill,” piqued Gamble’s concern. In answer to Gamble’s concerns, Martin mentioned that proposed services from Transitions Mental Health would support those with mental health issues.
The reuse strategy
The working group met in December to review and act upon a strategy for acquiring and interposing the property. The strategy includes:
Meeting with the California Department of General Services and potentially the Governor’s office to present the concept and explore acquiring the property.
- Conducting an infrastructure and structural analysis to determine what needs to be done to make the structures and the overall facility usable and create a budget.
- Resolve infrastructure and finance needs, including creating a business plan, applying for state grants or establishing a Mello-Roos Community Facilities District (CFD) . Mello-Roos, enacted by the California legislature in 1982 as the Community Facilities Act, allows for financing of public projects.
- Improve the property and manage it.
The history of the facility
The facility was originally the Estrella Army Corps base, serving as an adjunct to Camp Roberts during World War II. By 1947 the California Department of Corrections had acquired the facility for $8,000 and the first wards arrived at the “El Paso de Robles School for Boys.” The boy’s school closed in 1972 due to declining juvenile offender population then reopened in 1974 when juvenile offender population increased. The facility reopened as “El Paso de Robles Youth Correction Facility.” By the time of the final 2009 closure the property contained 13 buildings each housing between 32 to 100 wards, 18 other buildings including two gymnasiums, a dining hall, shops, a swimming pool, two cell block units, a football and baseball field, and a cluster of six single-family residences to house employees and their families.