Here's an Idea: Make Miguel Pulido and the Police Union Pay Off Santa Ana's Massive Jail Debt

Pulido holding some lame-ass award last year...
Pulido holding some lame-ass award last year...
Photo by Gabriel San Roman / OC Weekly

SanTana is in a state of government chaos. There's no city manager, no police chief, and a projected $14 million budget shortfall next year, with a $19.5 million gap the following—and this follows a $2.2 million deficit for this fiscal year ending June 30. Fun!

The police union is STILL asking for raises and new hires, and is leading the charge to point fingers at the financial black hole's culprit: the cancellation of a contract that let ICE keep immigrant detainees in the SanTana Jail, a jail for which the city must pay down a $27 million debt through 2024—roughly $3 million every year. Cop-gobblers like SanTana Mayor-for-Life Miguel "Don Papi" Pulido and Jose Solorio have told angry activists that canceling the ICE contract will cost the city $11 million in lost revenue this coming year and at least $7 million every year afterward—in other words, a chingo of the city's projected budget deficits.

Math don't lie, you know? So let's add up the jail bill and deliver it to the people who should rightfully pay: the Police Officers Association, and Don Papi Pulido. It's their fault and their fault alone that SanTana now has one big, ugly, budget-sucking slammer.

As the Orange County Register never fails to remind its geriatric South County readership, SanTana had historic crime rates through the 1980s and into the early 1990s, leading to politician and police calls for a city-run jail, the better to stuff it with alleged criminals. Pulido joined a unanimous council vote in 1991 to solicit proposals for a new jail and police headquarters. Then-police chief Paul Walters main rationale—one repeated in more than a few Register stories at the time—was that "suspected vagrants, drunks, drug dealers, drug users and prostitutes" in the city kept going free due to overcrowding at Theo Lacy. "It's the building that will serve the city for the next 50 to 75 years," he told the Reg in 1993. That year, near the height of SanTana's mega-crime wave, the city spent $1.5 million to the county in jail-booking fees—remember that amount for the end.

In 1994, the city decided to build the jail, though Pulido (then a mere councilmember) was strangely absent from the final vote. But he was present when the city council raised the utility tax by 20 percent to pay for the upcoming jail. He shared with the Register his hope that that city jail would becoming a moneymaking operation for SanTana by renting bed space to the federal government. "The big [jail] is not built for today," Pulido told a reporter. "It's built for the future."

Santa Ana JailEXPAND
Santa Ana Jail
Gabriel San Roman / OC Weekly

So what happened? By 1995, while the clink was under construction, SanTana saw its lowest crime rate since 1967 (by the way, all this hype about a historic crime wave in the city as of recent? In 1995, the crime rate was 488 reported crimes per 10,000 residents; according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting survey in 2015—the year politicians and the po-po and the Register say saw a dramatic uptick in crimes in the city— SanTana's rate per 10,000 was about 266. MAN, are hipsters and Brave New Urbanists spoiled...). Immediately, the jail ran into financial troubles, and Pulido was part of a council that decided in 1995 to take $14 million in federal community-development funds to finish the jail.

But Pulido nevertheless stood by it. "This is, I believe, the best possible investment we could make as a community to ensure our long-term future," now-Mayor Miguel Pulido told a community gathering when the jail finally opened in 1997, per the Register. "The beauty of this is that we did it right."

What an investment! That $1.5 million in booking fees I told ustedes to remember? That's half of the $3 million-per-year gangrene that the jail represents to SanTana's budget. Math don't lie, you know?

Pulido wasn't always so pro-jail, by the way. In 1990, he and other activists fought a countywide measure that sought to build a new county jail in SanTana. "I think that's an outrage and it's not just for the people of Santa Ana," said Pulido, then a councilmember. "It's dangerous nonsense to say anything we don't like is going to be put on one city." He went as far as to hold a news conference in Gypsum Canyon, where he and other politicians said any jail should be built. "Today, this is as remote as anything we can imagine, just 80 cattle and some precious trees," Pulido said at the time. "Where in Santa Ana do we have anything comparable to this?"

Four years later, he found a spot.


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