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Prison Urgency

August 22, 1986

It turns out that Sacramento put Los Angeles through the wringer over building a new state prison without bothering to write an environmental impact report on its proposed downtown site.

Now the Deukmejian Administration wants the Legislature to let it file the report after it uses part of a $31.4-million appropriation to buy land for the prison.

Impact reports are designed to let builders know exactly what they are getting into before--not after--they make big decisions. The request also assumes that if the report concluded that the site would be an environmental disaster, people would clamor to take it off the state's hands at a fair price.

One reason offered by state government for not writing an impact statement is that it looked over 100 sites, picked the Crown Coach site as the most suitable and did not want to think of any other location. It is just that sort of knowing what's best that led to environmental impact reports in the first place, with the consideration of alternatives one of their most important features.

The question turns on what happens to SB 904, sponsored by Sen. Robert Presley (D-Riverside), which would appropriate money for prison sites in Los Angeles, Madera and Del Norte counties and is now before a Senate-Assembly conference committee. Impact statements would be required for the other two, but not for Los Angeles.

There are good reasons for the Administration's sense of urgency. Choosing a site has already taken four frustrating years. State law requires approval of a Los Angeles site before any new prison can accept inmates. Prisons in San Diego and near Stockton are scheduled to open within months.

But if the state had started work on an impact report when Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich identified the Crown Coach site to keep the prison out of his district, the report would have been finished by now.

A prompt decision is needed to keep the Presley bill alive; it will die unless it is approved before the Aug. 29 recess. If that happens, the whole process will start all over, and that cannot be allowed to happen.

We still think that the downtown site is the most appropriate for a new Los Angeles prison. Los Angeles sends 17,000 inmates to state prisons every year, but has no state prison of its own. That is not fair. But a commitment of that magnitude requires what the law requires--an impact report.

The site will not go away. It will still be there when the impact report is finished. The Legislature should approve money for the prison, to be spent once the report is filed.

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