Suppose they built a prison and nobody came? That will happen in San Diego and Stockton next month unless Gov. George Deukmejian and the California Legislature act soon.
The stalemate over a new state prison in Los Angeles County is also stalling the opening of a new 2,200-bed men's prison and a new 400-bed women's prison because the law says they cannot be used until a Los Angeles prison site is chosen. The tiny cells that squeeze two bunks, two sets of shelves, one desk and one toilet into 60 square feet of space are near completion, but no inmates will move in any time soon.
Those vacant cells cry out for a compromise at a time when entire state penal system is desperately overcrowded.
But there is no compromise in sight in Sacramento. Deukmejian and Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) remain at angry loggerheads over a site for the Los Angeles prison despite persistent attempts by Sen. Robert Presley (D-Riverside), the original sponsor of the bill, to mediate.
Deukmejian wants the prison built on the Crown Coach property, two miles southeast of the Civic Center, in an industrial section of downtown Los Angeles. The Assembly has approved that location. The Senate has not.
The homes and schools closest to the site are in predominantly Latino neighborhoods on the Eastside. Latino leaders, who have watched families lose homes to freeways, a baseball stadium and other public works at their community's expense, have drawn the line at a state prison. The emotional community opposition goes beyond the usual complaints against a prison in the neighborhood. It has become an issue of fairness for the opponents and for Roberti.
Roberti has insisted, among other demands, that the state conduct a full environmental impact review on the Crown Coach site. That important step, bypassed in hopes of saving time, has become one of the many roadblocks.
Although Deukmejian has called the Legislature into a special session to address the prison issue, Roberti has refused to summon the entire Senate back to Sacramento until a compromise has been reached on a site and there is something to vote on.
Meanwhile, legislators are out campaigning. Those with prisons in their districts say they are determined that Los Angeles, which supplies 38% of the state's male inmates but has no prison of its own, shares the burden.
Pragmatism, fairness and state law require the construction of a state prison in Los Angeles County. It's a shame that after four years of debate the ground-breaking is no closer. It will be an even greater shame if the stalemate keeps the new prisons from opening in San Diego and Stockton next month.