It’s been a bumpy two weeks for Measure S, Sheriff Bill Brown’s proposed initiative to build a new North County jail using proceeds from a half-cent sales tax increase. The often bitterly divided Mental Health Commission, whose 11 members are appointed by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, endorsed the measure unanimously, citing the $5 million a year it would raise on behalf of intervention programs that could benefit the mentally ill. Likewise, the board of the Casa Esperanza homeless shelter backed the sheriff’s plan, again citing the prevention and intervention funding. And the Carpinteria City Council, which voted three weeks ago not to take any position on Measure S, has agreed to reconsider its non-position. In that case, it’s all but certain Carpinteria would endorse Measure S. But even so, the jail tax — which requires a two-thirds supermajority of voters to pass — has a long way to go. The nonprofit Mental Health Association has not taken a position yet, and might not; its board remains divided on the measure. And last week, the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association voted to affirmatively oppose Measure S, joining with COLAB — a conservative anti-regulatory group with strong roots in North County — and the county’s Republican Central Committee.
The Taxpayers Association vote came after a vigorous debate between Sheriff Bill Brown and Andy Caldwell, executive director of COLAB and Taxpayers Association boardmember. Brown said it’s too soon to begin writing Measure S’s obituaries. “The Taxpayers Association doesn’t necessarily represent the mainstream,” he said. Many of the conservative critics of Measure S contend it would raise twice as much money as needed to actually build a new jail. In fact, half the funds raised would be spent on diversion programs or public safety organizations — police, fire, and probation — throughout the county.
As a practical matter, Brown has insisted that the diversion funding is necessary to keep the new jail from overflowing. But given the two-thirds supermajority required, he also recognized the political necessity of including this funding. “If it was just a jail, the liberals and people in the South County would never have supported it.” Ironically, Brown — a registered Republican — has received the strongest support for Measure S from Democrats, though not exclusively. With the exception of Republican Assembly candidate Mike Stoker, Brown noted that Measure S has been endorsed by every Republican supervisor and ex-supervisor. Stoker — a former supervisor — has taken no position.