The Georgia-based engineering and architectural firm contracted by the County of Santa Barbara to help build the new North County Jail — Rosser International — abruptly and mysteriously declared it was going out of business two weeks ago, leaving the still-under-construction 376-bed detention facility further in the lurch. In a lawsuit against Rosser, County Counsel Michael Ghizzoni charged that the company only provided 80 percent of what it promised to deliver. The lawsuit also alleged multiple problems with the work that Rosser did do, blaming the company for a 287-day delay in the bidding process because the company did not obtain approval from the State Fire Marshal in a timely manner.
The county’s lawsuit alleged incomplete design, lack of coordination, and faulty studies, all of which contributed to overruns and delays. In one instance, Rosser allegedly referred to the California-based utility company PG&E as Georgia Power. Other failures, the county charged, were more costly, increasing costs by no less than $3 million.
The new jail — the crowning achievement of Sheriff Bill Brown’s tenure — is slated to cost $111 million when the dust settles. Initial bids pegged the total cost at $77 million. The new jail will provide much-needed relief for the overcrowded conditions that have dogged the county’s South Coast facility, long the subject of Grand Jury reports and ongoing litigation dating back nearly 30 years. When Brown first proposed the jail, he stressed the special medical wing with bed space for mentally ill inmates. As time passed, sticker shock took hold, and crime rates dipped; the need for the new jail was increasingly questioned.
The North County jail — initially slated to open this spring — is now tentatively expected to open sometime next year.