Paso looks to purchase vacant youth correctional facility
After two years of negotiations, Paso Robles leaders on Tuesday will officially decide whether to pursue purchasing the long-vacant state youth correctional facility — but the property could run the city close to $5 million.
The city has been exploring an acquisition of the El Paso de Robles Youth Correctional Facility — also known as the boys’ school and the Estrella Correctional Facility — since early 2017.
“We’re getting close to a place where the city will have to weigh the benefits of potentially purchasing it,” said Mayor Steve Martin in a Thursday phone interview.
Youth facility history
The state facility, located near the corner of Airport and Dry Creek roads, has remained vacant since 2008.
It housed juvenile offenders on and off beginning in 1947, but the state eventually closed the facility due to budget cuts, a declining inmate population and correctional policy changes.
Various plans to repurpose the 160-acre site — 23 acres of which house a Cal Fire substation — have been floated throughout the past 10 years, including turning the facility into an adult prison, a firefighting training camp for prisoners, a charter school and a homeless center.
Since 2017, the city has been working toward a potential purchase, which required the state to list the site as surplus property that a local agency, like the city, can now buy.
Mayor Steve Martin told The Tribune in 2017 he hoped the state would allow the city to buy the facility for a reduced price because it would be used in a way that would benefit the public, such as homeless services or farmworker housing.
It’s also an expensive site to keep up while it remains unused — the state spends $400,000 per year on maintenance costs, according to the California Department of General Services (DGS).
But the state is asking for $4.7 million to $4.8 million for the property, the site’s appraised value, according to DGS and City Manager Tom Frutchey.
A multimillion-dollar sale
Frutchey and other city representatives hammered out final details of a potential sale on Nov. 8 in Sacramento, he said in a Thursday phone interview.
When asked about the site’s price via emailed questions, a DGS spokeswoman referred to a California Government Code section pertaining to surplus property sales. The code indicates the state generally does not sell its properties for less than fair market value unless they will be used for parks, open space or affordable housing.
City leaders may also have concerns stemming from deed restrictions the state places on such land, Frutchey said.
These stipulations would prevent the city from selling the property, and the site could be rented only to lessees who intend to use it for a public benefit, such as nonprofits.
Officials don’t want to drain the city’s general fund to purchase the property, Frutchey said: “It’s imperative that this site be self-supporting.”
The city — which recently declared a homeless shelter crisis — is also considering applying for and using state Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP) funds to help purchase the youth facility, Martin said.
San Luis Obispo County will receive nearly $5 million in HEAP funds, which will be distributed throughout the area. By declaring a shelter crisis, Paso Robles became eligible to receive some of that money.
Using HEAP money to purchase the site would require the city to use part of it for homeless services, Martin said.
The Salvation Army has also expressed interest in leasing the facility and using it to provide services, Frutchey said.
The City Council will begin considering whether to move forward with the purchase in closed session during its Tuesday meeting. Once a determination is made, the process will continue with the required public hearings.