About 448 vulnerable locks on jail cells in Lerdo Jail’s pre-trial facility that are being exploited by inmates will be replaced after Kern County Supervisors approved more than $1.7 million Tuesday.
The money to fix the problem will come from the county's contingency fund — money set aside in the county budget for emergencies.
The failure of the locks has resulted in more than 100 escape incidents, a riot and five individuals being sent to the hospital.
A Sheriff’s office spokesperson stated Monday it will take at least 11 months to replace the locks.
Supervisors face opposition
Supervisors also voted to pay $11 million in easement money to keep 2,732 acres of agricultural land in cultivation for the next 30 years, a move that was aimed at providing foraging habitat to the small Swainson’s Hawk.
But the move faced stiff opposition from the Sierra Club, The Sequoia Riverlands Trust, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Audubon Society.
Speakers said the mitigation funds, part of more than $14 million paid by a solar company to compensate for habitat and agricultural impacts from the massive Antelope Valley Solar Project, were being spent in the wrong place.
The funds will go to fund easements on six clusters of agricultural land between Arvin and the northern boundary of Kern County in the Central Valley.
Conservation speakers at Tuesday’s meeting said the mitigation land needed to be in the Antelope Valley.
Harry Love, of the Audubon Society, showed pictures of the Swainson’s hawk and played audio of its calls.
He argued that there are differences between the Swainson’s hawk population in the Antelope Valley and the hawk’s population in the Central Valley.
Scott Spear, with the Sequoia Riverlands Trust, said that his group developed the agreement with Sunpower — the solar developer — but once they had the deal almost done the county stepped in and took over control of mitigation.
Garry George of Audubon California argued that the county hijacked the traditional mitigation process and can’t prove that it has really made an effort to find mitigation in the Antelope Valley — where it is really needed.
The money, he argued, should be turned over to a conservation land trust that should be allowed to find the mitigation land and manage it.
Other speakers demanded that the mitigation should be permanent — not for 30 years.
Gordon Nipp of the Sierra Club said the fact the county hasn’t been able to find and secure mitigation property makes them distrust Kern County’s ability to manage the easement lands.
He also called for the money to be turned over to a land trust.
And Nipp opposed the plan to absorb nearly $3 million of the mitigation money — the difference between the $14 million the county was given by the solar developer and the $11 million cost of the easement lands — into the county general fund.
Kern County Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt mounted a spirited defense of the county’s efforts to find property to prove agricultural easements that benefit the Swainson’s hawk.
She said the problem with trying to buy irrigated agricultural land in the Antelope Valley is that new state water laws are forcing farmers out of operation and fallowing land in the desert.
“You can’t force people to grow alfalfa,” Oviatt said.
The Swainson’s hawk, she said, is dependent on the development of agricultural land so that really makes it difficult to find appropriate habitat in the area.
Experts expect a 32 percent drop in active cultivation, Oviatt said.
It isn’t responsible, Oviatt said, to give money to farmers in the Antelope Valley when they will lose major portions of their irrigation water in seven years and are planning to stop farming and sell their water.
Supervisor Zack Scrivner, one of the supervisors who represents the affected areas, said this has been a really difficult issue for supervisors.
But he said he will support the staff plan.
“The farmland is going away quickly,” Scrivner said of the Antelope Valley option.
He visited one of the locations in the Antelope Valley that conservationists are interested in.
But that area is not irrigated agriculture land that is needed to meet the mitigation rules the county is working under, he said.
“I believe that the option we’ve found here in the central valley is the best option we have,” Scrivner said. “I recognize it isn’t a perfect solution."