Sheriff Bill Brown’s proposed half-cent jail tax won such an enthusiastic reception from the Santa Barbara City Council that even the one councilmember to vote against endorsing it — Frank Hotchkiss — said he hoped the ballot measure will pass this November. Brown is hoping to persuade voters countywide to support a half-cent increase in the county sales tax — Measure S on the ballot — so he can use the proceeds to build a new 304-bed jail in North County.
Mayor Helene Schneider and Councilmember Dale Francisco led the charge on behalf of the proposed tax. Francisco, a conservative Republican, at times sounded like a bleeding heart liberal, arguing that the redemptive potential of the new jail — which promises to provide various education, rehab, and job-skill programs — could save the “salvageable” souls locked behind bars. Francisco acknowledged that normally he’s against tax increases, but supports this one because the proceeds are locally controlled and not sent to Sacramento or Washington, D.C.
Councilmember Das Williams, normally the council’s most outspoken liberal, sounded like a rock-ribbed fiscal conservative, extolling the fiscal savings the new jail would yield. By providing offenders an opportunity to earn the equivalent of a high school diploma, he said, the expanded programs promised by Measure S would reduce the social burden imposed by repeat offenders. Councilmember Frank Hotchkiss — who sits on the Republican Central Committee that signed ballot arguments against Measure S — voted against endorsing the jail tax. Hotchkiss felt honor-bound to stick with the Central Committee vote, but said he’d been persuaded by arguments in favor of Measure S and that he personally hoped the tax passed.