REDWOOD CITY -- Nearly silent for years, criticism of San Mateo County's proposed $160 million jail is growing increasingly public and noisy.
The most recent example came Friday with the release of a report accusing the county of firing a consulting firm after it raised questions that could undermine the argument for the new jail.
Also, officials are expecting at Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting a repeat of the protest that drew 150 jail opponents at the board's meeting earlier this month. Opponents believe the money would be better spent on social services instead of "cages."
"I think there's been opposition all along," said Emily Harris, a statewide coordinator for jail opposition group Californians United for Responsible Budget. "But it has been magnified fairly significantly."
She said San Mateo County residents and people around the state have begun paying a lot more attention to jails since officials began sending low-level offenders to local lock ups instead of state prison last fall. Since the policy, referred to as realignment, took effect, 32 counties announced plan to expand their jails, Harris added.
San Mateo County Sheriff Greg Munks agreed the number of opponents turning up to protest the jail has grown, but added it appears to be people who don't live in the county. He noted the opponents had multiple chances over the six years to weigh in on the jail, yet only now are speaking up.
"I would be curious
Planning for the new jail continues as the county faces a $20 million gap in a $1.88 billion spending plan for 2012-13. The money issue was one pointed out in the report released Friday by the Berkeley-based Institute for Law and Policy Planning.
The report includes a letter warning "San Mateo must fix its system, before jail construction results in budget problems."
Alan Kalmanoff, the institute's executive director and author of the letter, wrote his group's contract with the county was terminated when it began probing "real issues that plague the local justice system."
The institute was hired in April 2012 to evaluate Achieve 180, a program that seeks to reintegrate inmates into the community. San Mateo County officials have said the institute lost its job because it didn't stick to the program it was hired to study.
Munks said the institute's work strikes him as the perspective of an outsider who is unfamiliar with the county's system, which he noted is "a model for cooperating and looking for a better way."
"It's a political agenda and I get that," said Munks. "I'm responsible for public safety in this county and I'm 100 percent convinced we are using the jail appropriately."
Contact Joshua Melvin at 650-348-4335. Follow him at Twitter.com/melvinreport.