SACRAMENTO — As opponents of a proposed state prison in Los Angeles turned up the political heat, Gov. George Deukmejian and legislative leaders held their first "exploratory" meeting Tuesday aimed at ending the stalemate on the prison and spending issues that have kept the Legislature in session past its scheduled adjournment.
The meeting between the governor and legislative leaders, described as the first of probably several, dominated the first day of the unusual two-week extension of a legislative session that had been scheduled to end Saturday.
"Nobody changed any of their positions," Senate Republican Leader James W. Nielsen of Woodland told reporters after the nearly two-hour meeting in the governor's office.
Also at the meeting were Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) and Assembly Republican Leader Pat Nolan of Glendale. Everybody agreed to meet again today.
The discussions centered on the governor's plan to build a new state prison near downtown Los Angeles, and on funding $283 million in programs that the governor vetoed last June from the current $37.4-billion state budget.
Before the meeting, Sen. Art Torres (D-South Pasadena), a chief opponent of the prison plan, announced that a statewide coalition of Latino groups had organized in an effort to block construction of the institution at the proposed site. They said it would be located too close to Eastside Latino neighborhoods.
Torres was joined at a Capitol news conference by two other Los Angeles Democrats, Assembly members Gloria Molina and Richard Polanco, and representatives of more than a dozen Latino groups, among them the United Neighborhood Organization, the Mexican-American Political Assn., the Mexican American Education Commission, and the League of United Latin American Citizens.
Both Torres and Polanco cast votes in favor of the prison as the bill authorizing it made its way through the Legislature. Polanco's vote in June was particularly crucial, for it was the decisive vote that got the prison bill out of the Assembly Public Safety Committee. On Tuesday, however, both defended their votes as actions aimed at winning concessions for their Eastside constituencies.
Show of Force
Torres said he hoped the show of political force would counter statements by Deukmejian Administration officials that the "East Los Angeles community could not and would not muster enough" opposition to defeat the prison.
The lawmakers also announced that they would ask the attorney general's and auditor general's offices to investigate a series of complex financial transactions involving ownership of the proposed prison site.
Responding for the Deukmejian Administration, Rod Blonien, head of the governor's prison expansion effort, said, "We have nothing to hide."
Then he again questioned the political strength of prison opponents. "It's questionable the amount of opposition we really have," Blonien said. He said the opponents were led by "a hard-core" group of a dozen or 15 people and "from time to time they are able to rally other people to their support."
Two Votes Short
When the Legislature recessed Saturday, the prison construction bill was two votes short in the Senate of the required two-thirds, or 27-vote, majority necessary for passage.
After the legislative leaders left the meeting with the governor on Tuesday, they returned to the Assembly and Senate and sent lawmakers home until further notice.
Roberti told members of the Senate that he would call them back "as soon as I think we have something worked out," which he indicated could be as early as Friday.