$225 Million for New Jail, Quarterly Flood Updates, and Cover Crop Program

The County is hastily moving forward to approve a new jail, borrowing $150 million, which will cost over $225 million dollars over 20 years. In this update I will summarize why I think we should reject this option and follow the lead of jurisdictions all across the country, approaching our criminal justice issues through more of a public health lens. I will also cover our first quarterly update as a result of the Lake Levels Task Force, and the groundbreaking of an Agroforestry pilot project and Continuous Cover Crop program.

225 Million Dollar Jail Project

Presentation slide from the MacArthur Safety and Justice Challenge Meeting in San Diego

Presentation slide from the MacArthur Safety and Justice Challenge Meeting in San Diego

If you haven’t been following the jail project, it is looking like it will soon be a done deal. The county originally approved a $75 million dollar jail project but was unable to move forward, as the Public Safety Building could not support additional floors. This was a big error, which led us to a $150 million dollar jail construction of a South Tower adjacent to the public safety building.

The County Board approved money to study three additional options in addition to this South Tower option which included “greenfield” options where the jail would be located outside of downtown Madison. I voted against the study because I feel strongly that we are studying the wrong options. As a result of that study, the Public Protection and Judiciary and Public Works Committee voted unanimously to move forward with the $225 million dollar south tower. Here are the reasons I oppose this project:

  • We have a mental health study underway which will examine the “feasibility of a mental health crisis restoration facility or other needed crisis responses.” These centers can take a “No Wrong Door” approach, where someone can go regardless of how acute or minor their mental health issue is. It allows people to be treated in the least restrictive environment and helps create a separation between public health and criminal justice issues. Why take a $225 million risk without completing this study?

  • We are closer to the beginning of this process rather than the end. In contrast to the flooding task force, there have been no dedicated public hearings or outreach to communities affected by incarceration. Prior to the County Board or public even reading of these jail options in a report that we funded, we read about it in the paper. That is not good government. I thank Supervisor Wegleitner for taking the lead on organizing a community meeting where we could listen to the community.

  • We are seating three new supervisors in a special election on June 4th. There should be no votes on this project until those supervisors are seated and those districts represented.

  • We need to act urgently to reduce our jail population. Over 3 years, Philadelphia has reduced their jail population 37%, Cook County, IL 32%, and New Orleans, LA 30%. Philadelphia was granted another $4 Million by the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge to decrease the city’s jail population by 50 percent by 2020. Strategies to do this include having initial appearances on weekends, expanding electronic monitoring, and most importantly, handling mental health crises as public health, not criminal justice issues.

Currently, I would say there are maybe 4 out of 37 supervisors voting against the jail. If you live outside or know someone who lives outside of the Near East Isthmus, please contact your county board supervisor and make your voice heard. We are setting criminal justice policy for the next 50 to 75 years, and if we take the same approach, we will continue to see the crippling racial disparities that have dogged our entire state.

Quarterly Flooding and Lake Levels Update

As a result of the Lake Levels Task force, we will provide quarterly updates on current water levels, slow no-wake status, aquatic plant harvesting, and number of days per year each lake is within its prescribed range. I advocated on that task force to be pro-active in our communication to the public and if you missed the meeting, I have recorded it here (it starts at the 8:16 minute mark):

The major takeaways from the this quarter’s update are as follows:

  • Due to the consistent rain, our lakes are close to their summer maximums. The county is planning on starting aggressive aquatic plant harvesting in the coming weeks in an attempt to increase flow through the chain. The plants removed are composted, as they shrink dramatically when all the water is removed.

  • The County is embarking on a 5-phases sediment removal process. It will start between Lake Monona and Lake Waubesa, and we are aiming to get permitting and funding in place to break ground in late summer. This is covered extensively in the meeting audio and will be a big tool to move water faster through the system to get to our seasonal minimums.

  • The County is taking core samples from all 5 locations to expedite future sediment removal. They are being tested at the state hygiene lab for hazardous materials.

  • About 100,000 pounds of carp were removed from Lake Kegonsa. Since carp disturb the bottom of the water, this could lead to more aquatic plants, but these invasive species need to be removed. Interestingly enough, the carp are used for both pet food and as a culinary delicacy. Go figure…

  • It takes one inch of rain 7 days to move through the watershed. The goal is to move towards a 4-day target to move one inch of rain out of the watershed. We collect extensive data on lake levels and flow rates at http://infosyahara.org/ and this system will continue to inform us as we tackle this issue.

Continuous Cover Crop Program and Agroforestry Project

The County is funding a $750,000 pilot project to convert 300 acres of farmland to pasture and grassy buffer zones. This provides farmers a competitive guaranteed rental rate over 15 years. This will help prevent soil erosion and deter excess nutrients that fuel algae blooms from entering the watershed. The regional and national economy has been especially tough on Wisconsin farmers, and this program provides some relief while providing lots of environmental benefits to the community.

I was happy to sponsor a budget amendment to support an agroforestry demonstration at Silverwood Park - Dane County, Wisconsin. In addition to planting hundreds of trees on Saturday, May 11th, an installation of an 18-acre row-cropping area will show farmers how to plant grain, beans or other typical crops, interspersed with fruit and nut trees.

Another installation will demonstrate riparian buffers that trap run-off water, conserve soil and produce harvestable crops.

Both of these conservation practices show innovative farming practices that can help fight climate change and build the soil to prevent the loss of excess nutrients.

Quick Updates

Keith, Lily and Yogesh snap a photo in front of the County Seal after a productive meeting.

Keith, Lily and Yogesh snap a photo in front of the County Seal after a productive meeting.

  • Big thanks to our neighbor Lily Jenkins, who is organizing high schools students through the coalition “Rising Waves” to push municipalities to go 100% carbon-neutral. Lily met with me and Keith Reopelle from the Office of Energy & Climate Change. There are many ways the County can collaborate with various school districts in the county, and continue our environmental initiatives with the landfill, alternate fuels and renewable energy projects. We look forward to continuing to collaborate with the community, and I am personally grateful for all the energy that the youth are putting into pushing our lawmakers to treat climate change as the crisis that it is.

  • I am on the Dane Arts and Cultural Affairs Commission, and we recently awarded $139,933 in grants to 69 Local arts organizations, including the Art and Lit Lab, Central Park Sessions, La Fete de Marquette and Willy Street Chamber Players . You can see all the recipients here. If you are a fan of Forward Madison FC like our dog Atwood is, we are also working with artists to do game-day posters for the football club.

  • Big thanks to Governor Evers for visiting the Oak Creek sangat at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin to deliver the first-ever statewide proclamation declaring April Sikh Awareness & Appreciation Month. My parents regularly attend Gurdwara, and in our temples we serve a community lunch to everyone regardless of caste or background. Those meal services have inspired my civic participation.

  • The annual El Día de los Niños (The Day of the Children) Celebration will take place on Saturday, May 18, from 10am to 2pm at the Goodman Community Center. This is tradition brings smiles, happiness and hope to over 1,000 Latino children and families.

Thanks for hanging in through this long update. Festival season is right around the corner and there is no better way to spend the summer than with my neighbors. See you soon!