PASO ROBLES — Gov. George Deukmejian indicated a willingness Friday to negotiate with opponents of a Los Angeles prison and said he is optimistic about the prospects for the controversial project despite the Senate's surprise rejection of his plan on Thursday.
Speaking to reporters after a visit to the Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles, the Republican governor said he is willing to consider a compromise if the bill is placed in a two-house conference committee.
"I'm still optimistic that we will get it out of the Legislature," Deukmejian said of his high-priority legislation. "There are a couple of items raised yesterday that perhaps we can, through the conference committee, resolve. I certainly hope so."
At the same time, the governor had some strong words for his Senate opponents.
"It was a little surprising that the Senate, which passed that very bill by a vote of about 35 to 0 when it first went through the Senate, would now not support it," he said. "I think the Legislature would be really shirking its responsibility in this area if they do not pass this bill."
In Sacramento, Sen. Art Torres, the Los Angeles Democrat who is the leading Senate opponent of the bill, said he would agree to support the bill if the Administration would conduct a full environmental impact assessment of the site before it is purchased, consider alternative locations outside the East Los Angeles area and drop consideration of the prison as a treatment center for psychologically disordered offenders.
"It's clear the governor knows (proponents) don't have the votes to avoid a conference committee, and they are in the process of negotiating a compromise," Torres said after the Senate adjourned Friday without taking action to revive the scuttled prison bill.
Sees No Agreement
Torres said "no agreement seems to have been reached on the three variables which we consider crucial."
Torres said a compromise might be reached without moving the issue into a conference committee. In that case, another bill would be amended to include provisions sought by Torres and other opponents of the prison, whose planned site is at 12th Street and Santa Fe Avenue, about two miles from the Civic Center.
Surprisingly, the bill, bitterly opposed by residents of East Los Angeles, fell four votes short of passage Thursday. Its author. Sen. Robert B. Presley (D-Riverside), said he will seek to have the measure reconsidered, but conceded that he did not have the support needed for passage Friday.
Presley discussed possible points of compromise with Deukmejian Administration officials throughout the day. At one point, Presley told reporters he thought he could reach a middle ground with Torres, saying, "We'll build it eventually."
Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), another opponent, said he believes that a solution will be found. "If you wanted me to bet, I'd say the bill passes," he told reporters.
The Deukmejian Administration already has agreed to drop consideration of a treatment center but has balked at looking at other sites and wants an environmental assessment only after the property is purchased.
Asked whether he would agree to Torres' demands, Deukmejian said: "I don't know exactly what the negotiations will consist of at this point. But we are certainly willing to talk with those who are leading the opposition."
"We not only should have a prison site located and operating in Los Angeles, where about 38% of the total number of state prisoners come from, but that is tied to the opening of two other prisons. And we have to deal with the prison overcrowding situation.
"So I would expect the Legislature will act responsibly and that they will vote for a bill to site that in Los Angeles."
The law requires that a Los Angeles County prison site must be selected before two major prisons under construction--one in San Diego County and one near Stockton--can be occupied.