More than 325 Santa Clarita Valley residents rallied Saturday against a proposal to build a state prison in Castaic.
"We're a small rural community being used as a political football," said Robin Geissler, co-chairman of Citizens for a Fair Prison Site, a 150-member group formed to fight the prison. Under a proposal before the state Legislature, the 1,700-bed facility would be constructed on the Peter J. Pitchess Honor Rancho, a nearby county jail farm.
"The Santa Clarita Valley is tired of being the dumping ground for the political bigwigs in downtown Los Angeles," Geissler said.
She was greeted with shouts and applause from a vocal crowd composed mostly of young couples with babies and children. They carried signs proclaiming "No more convicts" and "No striped neighbors" and chanted, "No more prisons."
This is the second proposed site for the same prison to draw opposition from Santa Clarita Valley residents.
A measure passed by the Legislature in 1982 requires that the state build a prison somewhere in Los Angeles County. Last October, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley proposed selling to the state a 520-acre tract in Saugus, owned by the city of Los Angeles, for the prison. Residents of the area protested and Bradley has not pushed the proposal.
By a 4-2 vote, the Assembly Public Safety Committee decided May 19 to build the facility in Castaic instead of downtown Los Angeles, approving a bill by Assemblywoman Gloria Molina (D-Los Angeles), who said that a downtown prison would threaten nearby residents far more than a prison in a rural area.
The measure was sent to the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, where a vote is scheduled for Wednesday.
Assemblywoman Cathie Wright (R-Simi Valley) drew cheers when she told the crowd, "The bill's never going to make it out of committee. I guarantee you, it's not going to leave the floor. . . . I'll kill the first Republican who votes for that bill."
There are nine Republicans on the 23-member committee.
Lacks Necessary Votes
A bill by Sen. Robert Presley (D-Riverside) seeking to locate the prison in downtown Los Angeles was approved last year by the state Senate, but Presley has said he does not have the necessary votes for approval in the Assembly.
That measure, advocated by Gov. George Deukmejian, is scheduled to come before the Assembly Public Safety Committee Monday, where it is opposed by Democrats who back Molina's plan to put the prison on the Pitchess honor farm.
The state Department of Corrections favors the downtown location.
The Pitchess Honor Rancho houses 5,000 minimum-, medium-, and maximum-security male county inmates who are awaiting trial or serving short sentences. The inmate population is expected to reach 9,000 by 1989 to help ease crowding at other county jails. Almost 700 other county and state inmates are scattered among eight work and fire camps in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Choice of Area Explained
Couples move to the Santa Clarita Valley because of its affordable homes, good schools, slower pace and small-town atmosphere, said Geissler, 30, a mother and substitute teacher, in an interview.
"It's like 'Leave It to Beaver' land out here. You keep expecting 'the Beave' to come down the street."
"We came here for the kids. We want it to be safe for them," said Beverly Tellis, 27, who moved from Orange County to Saugus with her husband, Glenn, and two children.
"Downtown, you can't find a school or church within eyesight of where the prison would be. Here, you can't get away from them," said Jim Scott, co-chairman of the anti-prison group. Scott said the area is being victimized by the political rivalry between Deukmejian and Bradley, probable opponents in the fall election for governor.
"The reason why the prison isn't already downtown is because we have a gubernatorial election this year," Scott said.
Has Had Escapes
Although seven prisoners, including a murderer and a rapist, escaped from the Pitchess facility in March, 1985, Tellis and other residents said they do not object to that facility.
The Castaic site is one of several locations in the Santa Clarita Valley that have been considered for prisons recently over the protests of residents.
On May 7, as angry residents shouted their opposition, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors narrowly approved a plan to convert a juvenile detention camp near Saugus into Southern California's first privately run adult prison. The minimum-security facility would house 100 parole violators.