SOUTH GATE — Local officials, rejoicing over the announcement that the state plans to build a prison in downtown Los Angeles, not in South Gate, have credited stiff community opposition with keeping the prison out of their city.
"It just shows what can be done when a city bands together," said Mayor Herb Cranton.
"I think that the community response was so strong . . . it went a long way towards discouraging (state) officials who knew they were in for the fight of their life," said Assemblywoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), whose district includes South Gate.
A state prison official, however, said opposition to the prison in South Gate did not enter into the state's decision to pursue the downtown Los Angeles site.
Not 'Actively' Considered
"We have yet to consider the South Gate site actively," said Robert Gore, a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections.
In an interview, Gore said the South Gate site was not considered because state officials decided the Los Angeles site was "best suited" for the prison. The state's interest in the South Gate site, the 39-acre Ameron Inc. pipe-building plant on Firestone Boulevard, has been suspended, and would only be reconsidered if the current plan to purchase the Los Angeles property "completely falls through," Gore said.
Since September, when the state Department of Corrections announced the Ameron plant was one of five potential sites for a state prison, city officials collected more than 10,000 signatures on petitions opposing the prison. Officials also held three anti-prison rallies that drew a total of more than 1,000 residents.
State prison officials announced Thursday they were near agreement on purchasing an eight-acre site near 12th Street and Santa Fe Avenue in Los Angeles, where a 1,750-inmate facility is planned.
While state officials said they had merely suspended interest in the South Gate site, Waters, who is a member of a committee that oversees selection of a prison site, was willing to predict that the prison would never be built in South Gate.
Chances 'Slim to None'
"They call it suspension but the chances are slim to none that there will ever be a prison in South Gate," said Waters, who added that she was "absolutely elated" by the decision.
The recent attempt to put a prison in South Gate was the third in approximately five years, with previous proposals involving the abandoned Firestone Tire and General Motors plants. Local officials said last week that they hoped South Gate would never again be mentioned as a possible site for a state prison.
"In baseball, it's three strikes and you're out," said Councilman Hank Gonzalez, who described the recurring prison proposals as a "little monster" that has menaced the community for years.
"I just hope this just kills the little monster forever," Gonzalez said.
"I certainly hope that once and for all, the message gets through that we don't want a prison in our city," agreed Cranton.
The two officials were divided over whether the city would pursue plans announced in December to purchase the Ameron site.
"If they're not going to open the prison there and Ameron tells us they're not interested in selling, therefore there's no need to pursue it," Cranton said.
Gonzalez, however, said city officials should continue talks with Ameron, until they are sure the firm, which has operated its pipe-building plant here for 56 years, plans to remain open.
Ameron officials could not be reached for comment.
Not for Sale
In the past, Dale McCoig, the firm's vice president and secretary, has written City Council members to say the plant was not for sale and that the firm opposed acquisition by the state.
McCoig, who has since retired, said in an interview in September that the company allowed an industrial broker to show the plant to state officials. He could not be reached for comment.
Waters said despite the denials by company officials, after private talks with company officials she was convinced that the firm had wanted to sell the property to the state.
"They allowed them (state officials) to come in," Waters said, adding that even if Ameron officials had made a deal with state officials, she believed continued community opposition had made the site unattractive to state officials.