SACRAMENTO — A key Senate committee on Friday approved a Democratic alternative to a controversial Los Angeles prison bill backed by Gov. George Deukmejian. But the Republican governor made it clear even before the vote that he would reject the measure and was in no mood to make any concessions.
The action by the Senate Judiciary Committee, on an 8-3 vote, cleared the way for full Senate approval of the measure but offered little immediate hope of resolving a question that must be settled if two other prisons now under construction in other parts of the state can be opened in the next two months.
It was unclear early Friday evening whether the Assembly would agree to the Senate compromise plan, which would require that the Deukmejian Administration conduct careful reviews of two other sites as well as of a parcel of industrial property in East Los Angeles that the Department of Corrections was ready to purchase.
Unwilling to Budge
However, the governor, at a press conference held earlier in the day, made it clear that he was unwilling to budge on the issue.
"There's no excuse now to be looking at some other alternative," Deukmejian said at a press conference held in the Los Angeles district of Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), who has opposed Deukmejian's plan to build a prison in East Los Angeles. "I'm not going to support any legislation that will further delay this process."
In what has become a continuing and increasingly bitter exchange, the governor attacked the Democratic Senate leader for obstructing efforts to open up new prisons. And Deukmejian threatened to campaign personally against a number of Democratic senators, including three who failed to vote for the Administration-backed prison measure: Rose Ann Vuich of Dinuba, Milton Marks of San Francisco and Leroy Greene of Carmichael. Of the three, only Greene faces reelection this year.
Earlier in the day Roberti had some unkind words of his own for Deukmejian. He accused the Administration of choosing a prison site two miles southeast of the civic center because it expected little resistance from nearby residents, who are mostly Latino.
"They have found the Mexicans live somewhere and that's where (the prison) is going to be," Roberti said.
Both the Senate and the Assembly remained in special session early Friday evening, two weeks after Legislature was originally scheduled to adjourn.
Deukmejian , who had called the special session, wanted approval of a measure by Assemblyman Jim Costa (D-Fresno), which would allow the state to purchase the East Los Angeles property, two miles southeast of the civic center near Boyle Heights.
But the Senate Democrats, after days of wrangling within their own ranks, offered an alternative proposal in response to complaints from the largely Latino neighborhoods that surround the East Los Angeles site.
The Democrat-backed measure would force the Administration to review two other sites as well and choose the one with the least impact on the environment and on nearby residential neighborhoods.
Assemblywoman Gloria Molina (D-Los Angeles), who has led the battle against building an East Los Angeles prison in her district, pointed out that 26 schools are located within two miles of the property.
And Roberti contended that the location of the schools set the stage for a hostage situation if there were an escape from the facility, which would not open until 1991.
But Sen. Robert Presley (D-Riverside) argued that a number of prisons, including those at Folsom and Vacaville, are close to schools and that a prisoner has never taken someone from a school hostage in the entire history of the state Department of Corrections.
Finding a place for a prison in Los Angeles County has been a thorny issue for the Legislature for the past several years.
Pressured by legislators who were tired of having prisons built in their districts when Los Angeles had none, the Legislature in 1982 agreed to a statute that required work to begin on a Los Angeles prison before any other new prisons could be opened. The Legislature could change that requirement, but such a move would have to overcome strong feelings from lawmakers representing other parts of the state.
Two new prisons now under construction, in San Diego and near Stockton, are scheduled to begin receiving prisoners in the next two months. Neither could open unless the Legislature agrees on a site for a new prison in Los Angeles County. The bill approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday would allow those prisons to open before a Los Angeles County site is chosen.
Deukmejian's Democratic challenger on the November ballot, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, who opposes the East Los Angeles site, has charged that Deukmejian could use his emergency powers to open the Stockton and San Diego cellblocks, even if no Los Angeles County prison is begun.
But Legislative Counsel Bion Gregory told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Deukmejian could exercise those powers only if there are riots under way or the direct threat of riots. The fact that the prisons are overcrowded--at 170% of their capacity--is probably not enough, Gregory said.