Victorville’s deteriorating relationship with the county of San Bernardino worsened this week when the city council refused to overturn two previous planning commission decisions to disallow the probation department permission to open a day reporting center for probationers near City Hall.
Not to be outdone, the county’s chief probation officer in the aftermath of the council’s decision indicated her department will process an increased number of released prisoners out of its existing facility which lies a stone’s throw from the civic center.
The issue in contention is a conditional use permit by Heide Hart to allow her property located at 15456 West Sage Street to be used as a day reporting center where from 145 to a maximum of 175 released convicted offenders would report on weekdays and where roughly 75 county employees would work.
On January 12, 2012, the city of Victorville’s planning commission heard that matter and voted 5-0, based upon planning staff’s recommendation and input heard at the meeting, to deny the conditional use permit. According to a staff report, the proposed reporting center as proposed failed to meet standards specified in the Victorville Municipal Code.
Hart and the county probation department appealed the matter to the city council, which directed that the planning commission reconsider the matter. The planning commission did so on March 14, 2012 and again declined to issue the conditional use permit.
A petition for reconsideration was submitted to the city and this week, on Tuesday April 3, the city council heard the matter.
With councilman Jim Kennedy absent, the council voted 3-1 to uphold the planning commission’s original and follow-up denials of the conditional use permit. Councilwoman Angela Valles cast the dissenting vote.
County officials, including chief probation officer Michele Scray, along with attorneys Diana Carloni-Nourse and James Bruce Minton, who represented Hart, asserted that as many as 100 probationers already report to an existing smaller probation office that is proximate to City Hall. They maintained that denial of Hart’s and the county probation department’s application would not prevent convicted probationers from saturating the area, which is also host to the Victorville Courthouse, where large numbers of both criminal defendants and convicted criminals congregate. The larger facility was needed, probation officials insisted, to keep pace with the number of probationers already being seen as well as the increasing number of post-release prisoners from the state penal system placed into the community under county supervision, a consequence of Assembly Bill 109, the state’s prison realignment plan. County probation officials intended to shutter the current office on Civic Center Drive in favor of the more spacious facility on West Sage Street.
The county presented to the city letters from 41 business owners in the environs of City Hall who said they had not experienced problems as a consequence of the significant number of probationers massing in the area and that they did not believe the placement of the expanded office onto West Sage Street would endanger public safety or hamper the business climate.
Nevertheless, the city council voted against permitting the use.
“It’s not compatible with the zoning in that area,” said mayor Ryan McEachron, speaking for the three-person majority.
One telling advocate against allowing the project approval was former Victorville mayor and councilmember Terry Caldwell, whose law office is located in the area. Caldwell called the probation reporting office in that section of town a “non-correctly permitted use” at the March 14 planning commission meeting.
Victorville continues to cooperate with the county on several levels, including contracting with the sheriff’s department for law enforcement service, and participates in a number of joint powers authorities and collectives with the county, such as San Bernardino Associated Governments (SANBAG), which serves as the county’s transportation agency, and the Victor Valley Economic Development Authority (VVEDA), which is overseeing the civilian conversion of the former George Air Force Base. Nevertheless, Victorville has been smarting ever since the county in 2008 elected to construct its major High Desert regional government center in Hesperia near Hesperia City Hall rather on property proximate to Victorville City Hall.
Scray indicated her department would not accept that Victorville could use its power to withhold conditional use permits to restrict probation operations and that the post-release community supervision program would simply function out of the existing smaller quarters.
“Irrespective of the decision by the Victorville City Council, the probation department is committed to public safety and will operate a day reporting center in the current Civic Drive location,” Scray said in a written statement.