SACRAMENTO — Gov. George Deukmejian's plan to build Los Angeles County's first state prison on a controversial site near the Eastside community of Boyle Heights was stalled in both the state Senate and the Assembly Friday night.
The Assembly voted 54 to 18 for the bill--which normally would be sufficient to pass it--but opponents used a parliamentary procedure to keep the vote from being officially announced.
Senate passage, which would break a two-year deadlock over the touchy political issue, required 27 votes but came up four votes short. Sponsors were trying to round up additional support as the Legislature remained in session.
Administration officials maintained all along that they expected the Assembly to vote final passage to the 1,700-bed medium-security prison before the Legislature adjourns sometime this weekend. But opponents said they were encouraged by the strength of the opposition that surfaced in the upper house.
"They (supporters) said it was going to be a slam dunk," said the Rev. John Moretta, who helped organize community opposition to the project, which would be built adjacent to Los Angeles County's most heavily Latino community.
Last year, the Senate overwhelmingly approved the Los Angeles prison plan. But two weeks ago, the Senate abruptly changed course and rejected it under pressure from angry Eastside residents, who contend East Los Angeles has become a dumping ground for unpopular government projects.
Early Friday, with the measure losing by 10 votes, it appeared as though the governor's plan could be headed for a final defeat.
As the day wore on, however, some members apparently saw the bill as useful in leveraging favorable treatment on their own pet projects from the governor's office and from Republicans who strongly favor the prison plan. And, one by one, senators who had abstained from voting came forward with "aye" votes.
The prison, proposed for an industrial area near 12th Street and Santa Fe Avenue about two miles southeast of the Civic Center, is a key to the governor's plan to make room for an exploding prison population that is growing at the rate of 155 new convicts each week. Of particular concern to the governor is a 4-year-old law that prevents the state from occupying two nearly complete prisons in San Diego County and near Stockton until a lockup is officially authorized in Los Angeles County.
During Senate debate, opponents charged that the governor's insistence on placing the prison in heavily Democratic East Los Angeles had political overtones.
"It smacks of taking the path of least resistance," said Sen. Joseph Montoya (D-Whittier). "It's the political rape of a community that does not have a lot of votes but does have concerns."
'Everything . . . We Can'
But Sen. Robert Presley (D-Riverside), who carried the legislation on behalf of the Administration, contended that both he and state corrections officials had "done everything we responsibly can to meet the requests and demands of opponents."
"It's time to get on with it and for Los Angeles along with the rest of the state to accept their responsibility in helping to find a solution to the problem," Presley declared.
Montoya, however, continued to press Presley, questioning why the governor had not suggested a second prison in a Republican area of the county as a way of defusing the opposition.
Presley conceded that Los Angeles County, which contributes about 38% of state prison inmates, should have several prisons located within its jurisdiction.
It has been a rocky road for the prison proposal from the very beginning. State corrections officials said they reviewed more than 100 potential sites throughout the county but found each had significant opposition from community and elected officials.
They settled on the Eastside property, known as the Crown Coach site, they said, because it had a willing seller and was near Civic Center court facilities.
The prison is intended to be used both as a processing center for recently convicted felons and as a work-based detention center. The cost of building the prison is estimated at $140 million to $160 million.
Last Year's Compromise
Under a compromise worked out last year by Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles), one of the prison project's chief opponents, the Administration agreed not to build any more state prisons within a 15-mile radius of the Eastside property and set a goal of hiring 60% of the new prison's staff from the surrounding area. Half of those new employees would be Latinos.
Representatives of the governor also agreed to place a greenbelt around the prison and to make an effort to award construction and operating contracts to local businesses.
More recently, the Department of Corrections agreed to conduct an abbreviated environmental assessment of the prison property before it is purchased, but refused to carry out a complete environmental impact report, that normally would be required by law, until the state officially owns the property.