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New supervisor says proposed jail is too big

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The size of the proposed new 768-bed jail recommended by San Mateo County Sheriff Greg Munks may put him at odds with a new county supervisor who has an insider’s perspective — Munks’ old boss.

Don Horsley, the former sheriff who will take office Monday as the District 3 supervisor, estimates such a facility would cost $30 million to $50 million annually to operate. The county is facing a $100 million budget deficit over the next 18 months.

“I don’t think we can afford to staff a facility that large,” said Horsley, the sheriff from 1993 until 2007.
Horsley said he has heard proposals ranging from 768 beds to 400 beds, which he believes is “probably a more realistic number.”

Despite his concerns, he wants to get an updated report on the proposed size and costs before making a final judgment.

In December, supervisors approved the purchase of 4.1 acres in Redwood City for the facility, which Munks says will focus on rehabilitation and alleviate serious overcrowding in the county’s current jails. But they face major decisions in designing the estimated $150 million facility and funding its operations.

Horsley isn’t the first to raise concerns. Supervisor Rose Jacobs Gibson wrote to Munks in July and August stating her “serious reservations” about the 768-bed size.

But in a July response, Munks defended the design as the right size to last for the next 20 years and said the county could face lawsuits or a court-ordered inmate cap if it doesn’t act.

“To build less, given what we know about the risks of overcrowding and the state’s pending transfer of inmates, would constitute bad public policy and would threaten public safety,” Munks wrote.