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Special Session Called on L.A. Prison Impasse : Governor Angrily Accuses Democratic Senators of 'Going Back on Their Word,' Warns of Riots

September 09, 1986|JERRY GILLAM and PAUL JACOBS | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — Gov. George Deukmejian, making one more stab at gaining approval for a state prison near downtown Los Angeles, called the Legislature into special session Monday and angrily accused key Democratic senators of "going back on their word" in the 2-year-old dispute.

The governor warned that current prison overcrowding could lead to a "major prison riot" if the Los Angeles site is not approved. A 1982 law requires that a Los Angeles County prison site be chosen before new prisons in San Diego and Stockton, now nearing completion, can be opened.

The Assembly, promptly convening in special session, approved a bill to authorize the prison on the site Deukmejian prefers, roughly two miles southeast of City Hall. A 47-15 vote sent the bill to the Senate, which is scheduled to meet again Thursday.

Viewpoints on Issue

A long parade of witnesses, ranging from Latino community leaders to Rod Blonien, undersecretary of the Youth and Adult Corrections Agency, testified before the lower house, meeting as a committee of the whole.

Assemblyman Jim Costa (D-Fresno), who sponsored the bill, said, "This is the third time that we have voted on this bill. I hope the third time is a charm in this case."

Assemblywoman Gloria Molina (D-Los Angeles), who has led the fight against the downtown Los Angeles prison, vowed, "East Los Angeles is never going to be the site of a Los Angeles prison. They're putting one over on you." The intended site is in her district.

Proponents argued that the downtown site is well suited for a prison and that several concessions have been made in an attempt to satisfy the surrounding largely Latino community, including assurances of jobs at the prison and promises of landscaping.

But opponents contended that the site was picked before any consideration of its impact on nearby neighborhoods, which already house more than 13,000 inmates at county and federal institutions.

"This is enough," complained Jose Luis Garcia, an East Los Angeles resident. "Our community has been dumped on one more time."

Deukmejian said he had no other choice but to call the special session after talks broke down with Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) and Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) regarding a possible compromise.

The advantage of a special session is that the prison bill can be passed by a simple majority vote instead of the two-thirds majority that was needed under regular-session rules.

Unresolved Questions

The regular session was scheduled to end Aug. 29, but was extended because the lawmakers could not agree on the prison issue or funding for $283 million in budget vetoes.

The Senate, led by Roberti and Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles), has recently twice rejected the governor's downtown Los Angeles prison bill because of opposition from Latinos.

The governor charged that the Senate last year approved the prison bill, later killed by the Assembly, after Deukmejian agreed to accept a series of amendments asked by Roberti and Torres and "to look favorably" on two other bills authored by Torres.

These two bills, both signed by Deukmejian, provided state seed money for a museum in Little Tokyo to commemorate the Japanese-Americans who were interned during World War II and provided more state money to help high school dropouts.

Attack by Governor

In a harsh attack aimed at Roberti and Torres, the governor said:

"When certain understandings are reached, certain pledges are made, and one party reneges or refuses to go through with an understanding, I don't see how we can do business around here.

"Their word is absolutely no good. I cannot see how anybody can operate under these circumstances."

Roberti replied, "Political pressure was put on him (Deukmejian) by his friends in Los Angeles, and by God, he's not going to site a prison where he lives or where they live. He's going to site it where Mexican-Americans live."

The Senate Democratic leader insisted that it was the governor "who changed his mind" and delayed construction of the Los Angeles prison when he rejected a site in the Lancaster area when urged to do so under pressure from Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich.

Agreement Denied

"At no time did I ever talk to the governor about either of those two bills," Torres said. "The time when the governor says he made a deal to memorialize the Japanese internees or to cut the dropout rate in our schools in order to get a Los Angeles prison is a very sad time indeed."

Deukmejian also blasted other Democratic senators for voting against the prison bill or not voting on it at all. "Those legislators are shirking their responsibilities," he said, "if they continue to be obstinate and obstruct passage of this legislation."

The 1982 bill stipulating that a prison site be picked in Los Angeles County was passed in recognition of the fact that the county generates a high proportion of state prison inmates--currently about 38%--but has no state prison within its boundaries.

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