In the last three years, the voters have approved $795 million for new prisons, and the Legislature has ordered that a new facility be built in Los Angeles County. Yet under the Deukmejian Administration California's prisons have become desperately overcrowded, and no new prison has been constructed in L.A. County.
After three years of trying, all the state Department of Corrections has been able to do is propose a site in Lancaster, which was rejected, and then propose a site in downtown Los Angeles without notification to elected officials and without state-mandated community input. Because of the downtown site's exorbitant cost, small size, and close proximity to homes and schools in Boyle Heights, the Legislature has refused to approve the downtown site.
I have recently proposed a solution to the current impasse: The City of Los Angeles will sell 520 acres of land to the state for the construction of a prison. The city-owned parcel near Saugus--which was used for years as an alcoholic rehabilitation center--is hundreds of acres larger, millions of dollars cheaper, and far more isolated than the downtown site. A comparison of the Saugus and downtown sites is the best way to assess the merits of the alternative that I have offered:
COST TO TAXPAYERS
Downtown Site: Approximately $31.4 million for 30 acres of prime commercial land, or $1,046,667 per acre.
Saugus Site: Approximately $8 million for 520 acres of rural land, or only $15,385 per acre.
Downtown Site: 30 acres for a 1,700-inmate prison, although the state's own regulations require 25 acres for each 500 prisoners. The site offers no opportunity whatsoever for future expansion.
Saugus Site: 520 acres, which provide the state the opportunity to expand the prison in the future as needed. Such expansion will reduce the need to find other new sites.
OVERCONCENTRATION OF PRISONERS
Downtown Site: Over 11,000 jail inmates are already housed within five miles of the proposed downtown prison site.
Saugus Site: A small youth correctional camp is located in the area of the proposed Saugus site.
PROXIMITY TO HOME AND SCHOOLS
Downtown Site: Two schools are located within one mile of the proposed downtown site. The downtown site is also less than one mile from the densely populated Boyle Heights area of Los Angeles.
Saugus Site: A high school and residences are located near the outer perimeter of the Saugus site. However, the large size of the Saugus site offers a three-quarter mile buffer area from the actual site of the prison. No such buffer area is available downtown.
Few people want prisons near them--not the people of Boyle Heights, not the people of Saugus. And the communities affected have a right to be heard--a right that the Deukmejian Administration has not always respected. But the ultimate decisions on prison siting must be based on fixed, objective criteria. Judged by each of the relevant criteria, the Saugus site is far superior to the downtown site. I hope the state Department of Corrections gives serious consideration to my proposal.
Mayor of Los Angeles