Some clouds

Sonoma County Board of Supervisors delays vote on Sierra Youth Center

A majority of Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday voiced support for a proposal to outsource the county's residential probation program for teenage girls to a private operator.

The shift ran into strong pushback, however, from Supervisors Shirlee Zane and Susan Gorin, who said plans for career training were not on par with the courses offered to troubled boys under county care.

Zane said she would oppose the deal at the board's meeting next week if additional coursework and funding weren't added into to the final proposal.

"If they don't address the parity issue, they don't have my vote," Zane said in an interview after a nearly two-hour board hearing on the matter.

Supervisors Efren Carrillo, David Rabbitt and Mike McGuire, meanwhile, voiced approval for the cost-saving move. It was initiated by the board last year -- after years of wrangling over the fate of Sierra Youth Center, the girls probation camp -- to address the center's dwindling population of girls and its high-fixed cost, at $1.6 million a year.

The replacement program, to be run at half to a third the cost by a Sacramento-based group home provider, would satisfy most county goals, the three supervisors said.

"This is a decision that we've agonized over," McGuire said. "We have to remember that many counties have simply thrown up their hands and done away with their programs."

A board vote was postponed to next Tuesday to allow more time to review the contract with Crossroads Treatment Centers, the nonprofit group home operator chosen for the new program.

The 34-year-old Sierra Youth Center, tucked in a corner of the juvenile justice campus off Highway 12 in the Valley of the Moon, is still scheduled to close Thursday. Its three remaining girls were being returned to outside homes this week. The center's staff of 10 are all being moved to the nearby juvenile hall.

A final board decision would follow a series of moves by the county in recent years to outsource services to companies and nonprofits to save money.

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