By David M. Greenwald
For the second time this weekend, Supervisor Don Saylor raised the issue of the district attorney’s budget. His previous column and questions triggered a 29-page response by the DA’s office and a presentation by Chief Deputy DA Jonathan Raven earlier this month.
But there are indications the supervisor may be fighting this battle alone. The staff report for Tuesday’s meeting seems to justify budget increases.
Following the 29-page response from the DA, the Board directed Financial Services staff to review the department’s response.
Staff found that the “cost escalation” for the DA’s office “is in line with other departments.
“The escalation due to the general fund may appear disproportionate due to declines in Public Safety Sales tax revenue in 2020-21,” they write. But they argue, “Total positions in the District Attorney budget was reduced by six from 2019-20 to 2020-21 in order to aid the balancing of the budget and achieve a 7.75% reduction target.”
They add, “Additional fund balance was brought forth from the COPS and CalMMET funding sources as part of balancing the adopted budget due to reductions needed in the Community Corrections Program.”
Staff also believes that the DA to Public Defender staffing ratio of 3 to 2—“the Public Defender should have two attorneys for every three attorneys in the DA’s Office”—is appropriate. Though they note that “it is important to note evolving philosophies of restorative justice, additional forms of evidence, and new mandates have affected both departments differently and the existing ration of 3:2 may need to be revisited in the future to determine if it is still an appropriate ratio.”
A review found that “a high-level staffing comparison between the District Attorney and Public Defender indicates that the County is generally successful in meeting the established 3:2 staffing parity when looking at attorney positions” though they do acknowledge “there is more of a discrepancy in non-attorney staffing.”
But Don Saylor continues to hold a different view.
“With continued fiscal uncertainty and a growing consensus that change must happen, Yolo County must reexamine our focus on criminal justice,” he wrote in a guest piece appearing in the Vanguard last weekend. “General Fund criminal justice spending is growing faster than the GF overall and is eating an ever-larger share of our discretionary revenue. The County GF cost for criminal justice has increased from $27 million in 2014-15 to $43 million in 2020-21.”
Saylor argues that the Leinberger Jail replacement project “should be canceled.”
He writes, “The 2020-21 budget includes $33 million in state and local funds to replace the out of date and deteriorating Leinberger jail facility. Once constructed, this replacement structure will require annual GF operational expenses of approximately $1 million each year that are not warranted based on current and foreseen levels of need for jail beds.”
He also argued that the community corrections budget “should be aligned with strategic plan and address evidence based activities.”
Here he argues that, back in 2011, AB 109 “reduced penalties for certain crimes and realigned public safety funds to transfer responsibilities and funding from the state corrections system to local counties in order to stop the costly, ineffective and unsafe ‘revolving door’ of incarceration of lower-level offenders and parole violators.”
But Saylor believes that “the Yolo County CCP Budget has not aligned with the Strategic Plan objectives and continues to fall short of addressing measurable outcomes and evidence-based investments.”
Supervisor Saylor points out, “In order to meet the reduced level of state funding, the CCP Executive Committee reduced all allocations by an across the board 8% cut regardless of the contribution of the activity to meeting goals of reduced recidivism, offender accountability of community restoration.”
On September 3, 2020, a motion before the seven-member CCP Executive Committee budget recommendation was passed with three YES votes (District Attorney, Sheriff, and representative of the Yolo County Police Chiefs), two NO votes (Director of Health and Human Services and Public Defender), and two abstentions (Probation Chief and Administrative Officer of the Courts).
That’s a 3-2 vote with two abstentions, including the Probation Chief and Court CAO.
The supervisor argues that the DA General Fund Should remain flat. He argues, “The budget documents submitted as part of the Recommended Budget were vague about why this General Fund increase is proposed. Supplemental information provided by the DA addressed many grant-funded special programs but continued to be vague about the General Fund spending levels and outcomes.”
It’s not actually clear why the DA’s budget has remained flat, if not gone up.
In the DA’s rudimentary budget analysis from early this month, the data showed that case load has or should have largely dropped since 2015, but the cases filed, with the exception of 2018, have remained steady. What seems to have dropped is the number of cases rejected by the DA.
There is also the issue of racial disparity.
The DA writes: “Based on the data presented by the Sheriff, DA and Probation at the Board Workshop on racial disparity in Yolo County on July 21, 2020, the disparity of race/ethnicity is consistent across all three departments and is also very notable in that the percent of criminal justice involving black individuals exceeds the percentage of black residents in the county.”
As he did in April, he offers, “One must keep in mind that many individuals committing crimes in Yolo County are not County residents so comparing the census numbers to individuals who are criminally justice involved are ‘predictably inaccurate’ and unscientific.”
He does allow, “That being said, this data is informative and troubling and must be explored further.”
But that point has not gained enough traction.
Don Saylor points out, “This topic of funding of Yolo County’s Law and Justice departments has been an ongoing policy conversation for the past 18 months. It was an important part of our June 9 budget discussions. “
But it also appears that during a time when jurisdictions are re-conceptualizing the role of law enforcement that it is Don Saylor alone who is driving this discussion.
As he points out, “We can and must change our focus on community and justice. This should not be business as usual. The issues I identify in this discussion present concrete steps we can take to align our community values to our spending on law and justice. Now is the time.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting
Support our work – to become a sustaining at $5 – $10- $25 per month hit the link: