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County OKs outsourcing of Sierra Youth Center operations

Published: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 8:16 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 7:30 a.m.

A split Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a contract that outsources residential probation care for girls to a private operator.

The move came over the objection of Supervisor Shirlee Zane, who said last-minute changes to the deal, including an additional $35,000 for career planning, did not settle her concern that girls probation programs were not on par with services offered to troubled boys.

"I don't think it goes far enough," Zane said.

Four board members, however, said delaying launch of the replacement program, as Zane had suggested, could leave eligible girls with no immediate alternative to court-ordered supervision than juvenile hall.

"What I'm most concerned about is getting a viable program up to meet the needs of the (girls)," Supervisor Susan Gorin said.

The decision marked the first split vote for the newly composed Board of Supervisors this year. It comes one week after the county closed its Sierra Youth Center, the 34-year-old girls probation camp that had been faced with a dwindling population and a high fixed cost of $1.6 million a year.

The privately run effort, which will be based out of the juvenile justice campus in the Valley of the Moon, is expected to cost the county about half to a third the previous annual amount, based on a population of five to 10 girls.

It drew probing questions last week from Zane and Gorin, who in the first hearing on the deal pressed for more details about plans for career training. Zane said she would oppose the deal without additional course offerings and funding.

In response, probation officials added plans to craft a career plan for each girl in the program, including links to professionals and access to a range of outside courses. The additions were on top of two county classes in the initial proposal, in culinary work and computer and office skills. Probation officials also bumped the $65,000 proposed for career training to $100,000.

Factoring in other funds spent on a probation officer who will oversee career counseling, officials said the spending for girls was roughly on par with funding for boys under county supervision.

"I think we're there," said Bob Ochs, the county's chief probation officer.

Zane wasn't convinced, and her call for a second round of proposals from private operators drew interest from Supervisor Efren Carrillo. He echoed some of Zane's concerns about the county's selection process and appeared to back off his comments last week poking holes in claims about unequal services for girls.

But Carrillo eventually joined Gorin, David Rabbitt and Mike McGuire in advancing the deal with Crossroads Treatment Centers, a Sacramento-based group home operator.

The nonprofit organization is planning to open the program next month with an initial population of about four girls, including two from outside the county, said Robert Pye, the group's chief executive officer.

The out-of-county girls are paid for by contracts with other local governments.

The Board of Supervisors is set to review the program in six months.

You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or brett.wilkison@pressdemocrat.com.

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