KCBX Two-Way: Paso Robles explores repurposing former reformatory

Jan 13, 2017

The City of Paso Robles is considering purchasing the former El Paso de Robles Youth Correctional Facility property from the State of California. The facility hasn't been in use since 2008. 

KCBX's Bree Zender spoke with San Luis Obispo Tribune reporter Lindsey Holden, who is covering the story.

Note: This interview has been edited for time and clarity.

ZENDER: So, tell me about the history of this property.

HOLDEN: Basically it was a youth correctional facility for quite a while. And then in 2008, it closed due to kind of a lot of things. There were budget cuts and a shift in how they handle youth correctional policy. And so they moved all the kids out and closed the facility. It's a 155-acre facility, so it has everything...kitchen, dorms, the whole shebang. The state has held onto it since then and hasn't really found a use for it. There have been a lot of things [proposed]. They proposed using it as an adult prison, a re-entry program, and a fire camp where they could train prisoners. But none of that really came to fruition. 

ZENDER: So it's been sitting for almost ten years, just empty?

HOLDEN: Yeah. And there's actually a CalFire substation on 16 acres of the property, which is going to stay pretty much no matter what.

ZENDER: And so what is the City [of Paso Robles] planning to do with this property?

HOLDEN: They kind of want to turn it into a multi-use complex, all to be used for public programs. Some of the ideas that have been floated include the school district using it for educational programming and for recreational facilities. Maybe using some of it for farmworker housing, homeless transitional housing, and then having an ethanol waste recycling plant. Lots of different creative ideas. 

ZENDER: Do you know why the state hasn't done anything permanent to the property yet?

HOLDEN: I think it has a lot to do with cost. They'd have to renovate the property a lot. For instance, when they floated the idea of an adult prison. The prison is set up for younger offenders, so they'd have to redo a lot of and that would just cost a lot of money. And they also did prison realignment with Proposition 47, when they sent a bunch of inmates to jail instead of prison. So priorities kind of changed. I think that had a lot to do with it. 

ZENDER: And it already costs a lot to maintain right now.

HOLDEN: Yeah, it costs at least $700,000 a year to maintain it, to keep it from falling apart, security, all of that.

ZENDER: So where is the City of Paso Robles at [with this proposal]?

HOLDEN: Mayor Steve Martin and Councilman Steve Gregory, they're going to present some ideas to the rest of the city council on Tuesday. And they need to get the go-ahead from the rest of the council to direct staff to start working on this idea. And then Mayor Martin is going to the California League of Cities Conference in Sacramento later in the week, so he was going to talk to some state officials at that time. 

ZENDER: It's kind of just thoughts right now. Nothing official?

HOLDEN: Yeah, this is very much in the conceptual stage. It hasn't gone that far yet. But they're hopeful.

ZENDER: Do you think it's going to become official soon?

HOLDEN: Well, I'm not sure. It is a really ambitious plan. And I've talked to everyone about that. You know, this property has sat vacant for ten years. And a lot of ideas have be floated. And so I don't know. We'll have to see. The possibilities are exciting, though.