Honor Farm plans called into question
By Kelly Feser Eells
Jack, who requested that his
last name be withheld, is a longtime neighbor of the Ventura
County Sheriff's Department Branch Jail Honor Farm.
Though Jack knew it had been there been "quite a long time,"
he didn't know it had been operating close to 50 years - first
as a jail, then as an honor farm, and, finally, as a women's
detention facility - or that it would be closed for good by mid-July,
July 30, at the latest.
"I'd heard something about its possibly closing sometime
this year, maybe next," he smiled. "But then, I don't
follow local politics all that closely."
When asked what he thinks of Supervisors Steve Bennett and Linda
Parks' recent proposal that the 117-acre facility be converted
into housing for the mentally ill, Jack said, "Not much.
That's even worse than turning it into a horse ranch, which there's
been some talk about. I've been kind of worried about the possibility
of horse corrals - and everything else that goes along with that
kind of operation - going up across the street, but that, no."
Jack goes on to say that, while he "never had any problems
and has, in fact, always kind of enjoyed" living so close
to the honor farm (citing, among other pluses, the friendships
he'd established with "a couple of sheriffs who've lived
on-site, even the helicopters that used to take off right over
my head") he'd prefer the land be privately developed than
used "as yet another kind of lockdown facility.
"Since the farm's conversion to a women-only jail in the
late 1990s, well, it's just not as pretty as it used to be. They
got rid of the pig breeding operation; they're housing more violent,
more hard-core offenders; and now, when I take a walk along the
top of Woodland Avenue and look down, there's all this high-wire,
maximum security stuff" reflecting the changes. "It
used to be all you saw, or noticed, at least, was pasture, greenery,"
he said, indicating that he doubted any new, county-run operation
would be welcome. "But I'll have to hear what everyone else
has to say."
Kathy Walker, another neighboring resident, does follow local
politics closely, including the (sometimes-heated) budget negotiations
between Sheriff Bob Brooks - who announced last April that closing
the honor farm would help offset a projected $10 million-dollar
budget shortfall - and the Board of Supervisors, some of whom
wondered aloud whether the announcement was "tactical,"
rather than practical.
Bennett was quoted as saying, "Sometimes ... department
heads such as Brooks have an incentive to offer up the most high-profile,
painful cuts possible to protect themselves from budget reductions.")
With respect to Bennett's recent proposal, Walker says, "While
I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Bennett's observation that the
county, indeed the state - thank you Proposition 13! - has a
severe shortage of all lockdown facilities" (an observation
underscored by the Grand Jury report of May 16, which found that
"large numbers of mentally ill individuals are continually
homeless in Ventura County, and the jail is the largest single
provider of housing for the mentally ill"), "I think
the 'Not In My Backyard' theory should apply here.
"During my 15 years of residency in Mira Monte, we Mira
Monte residents have politely ignored the fact that there is,
essentially, a jail facility in our own backyards. We've endured
the early morning stench of offal, a byproduct of animal slaughtering,
the chronic sound of helicopters circling, and increasing weekend
traffic, magnified by (our) proximity to Lake Casitas."
Walker further notes that, "While Mira Monte residents reside
outside the city limits, we still attend Ojai schools, have Ojai
addresses, and carry out our lives in Ojai. We, however, do not
enjoy the same safe haven restrictions enjoyed by the residents
of the City of Ojai. The quaintness of Mira Monte has already
been challenged by the arrival of Rite-Aid, McDonalds and Taco
"Adding insult to injury would be the addition of a mental
health facility. I agree that there is a shortage of facilities
in the county, but is the solution the Honor Farm? If we're
really talking about utilizing unused facilities in the area,
how about the old bowling alley? Although I doubt the East End
residents would support that option.
"A better use of the honor farm property," she adds,
"would be a scenic park overlooking the river bottom. You
may have noticed that Mira Monte is not home to one single park
- unless you consider the grassy lawn in front of Taco Bell a
But it isn't likely there will be any decisions made about the
soon-to-vacated property. Bennett and Parks placed a letter on
the Supervisors' June 3 agenda, asking fellow Board members to
direct Chief Executive Officer John Johnston "to return
to our board with an evaluation" of the feasibility of their
proposal. "The report," their jointly-signed letter
reads, "besides listing the advantages and disadvantages
of such a conversion, should provide staff's professional estimates
on initial and long-term cost, overall budget impacts, and potential
sources of funding for making this conversion."
Also, "the Behavioral Health department and other appropriate
agencies should be consulted. The report should be sufficiently
detailed to enable our Board to determine whether the issue merits
further, more refined, analysis."
The Ojai Valley News
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