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2nd Lot Needed for L.A. Prison Isn't for Sale, Owner Says

January 28, 1987|LEO C. WOLINSKY | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — A second parcel considered crucial to the construction of a state prison on Los Angeles' Eastside is not for sale and never has been, despite the contentions of Gov. George Deukmejian's advisers, the owner of the property said Tuesday.

Officials of Santa Fe-Southern Pacific Corp., which owns nine acres in the governor's proposed prison site, said they repeatedly made it clear to Deukmejian's representatives that they do not intend to sell and would probably wage a court fight against condemnation.

"We are not a willing seller, and we were not a couple of years ago when the state first approached us," said Susan Saltzer, a spokeswoman for Santa Fe-Southern Pacific, owner of the property and operator of the Santa Fe Railroad.

The Santa Fe property is immediately south of an 8.9-acre parcel once owned by Crown Coach International that Administration officials have said is also needed to build the prison. Crown Coach lost patience with the state's slow political process and recently sold its land to a private developer.

With both properties apparently unavailable, Deukmejian's strongly fought plans for a prison in Los Angeles County face yet another obstacle.

Theoretically, the state could force sale of the Santa Fe and Crown Coach properties by using its powers of condemnation. That would require legislative authorization, however, and Deukmejian has been unable to break the Legislature's opposition to his Los Angeles prison plan.

The disclosure of Santa Fe's unwillingness to sell will provide new ammunition for legislative opponents who have argued that the Administration should look elsewhere for a prison site.

Adding to those problems, the state's auditor general criticized the Department of Corrections on Tuesday for paying inflated fees to firms managing much of the governor's $2-billion statewide prison building efforts. A department official disagreed with many of the auditor's conclusions.

In light of both the auditor general's report and Santa Fe's disclosure, a leading critic of the governor questioned whether corrections officials have a firm grasp not only over the management of the troubled Los Angeles project but also over the overall prison building effort.

"Every day we find these revelations," said Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles), an ardent opponent of the Eastside prison plan. "Where is the credibility of this department?"

A top spokesman for the Department of Corrections disputed Santa Fe's contention that the state knew of the firm's opposition to the sale of its land.

"They are telling you something different than they told us," said Thomas Crofoot, a deputy secretary of the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency. Crofoot, however, declined further comment, saying he does not want to "negotiate through the newspaper."

The Department of Corrections has said it needs about 20 acres to build a medium-security prison for 1,700 inmates. It would be Los Angeles County's first penitentiary, and Deukmejian is demanding that it be built two miles southeast of the Civic Center, adjacent to the heavily Latino community of Boyle Heights.

The proposal has generated intense opposition from community leaders, and some Democrats in the state Senate who have effectively blocked action for several months.

At first, the sale of the Crown Coach property last month appeared to doom the governor's plan. Deukmejian vowed, however, to use the state's powers of condemnation to obtain the land and declared in his State of the State speech that "there is no reason or excuse for further delay."

Although the governor did not mention the Santa Fe land, Administration officials later said that regardless of what happens to the Crown Coach property, a "high-rise" prison could be built on the nine-acre Santa Fe parcel.

Rodney J. Blonien, undersecretary of the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency, said in an interview last week, "We have been told the (Santa Fe) property is for sale." Later he added that there would be "no problem" in obtaining the property.

Santa Fe's Saltzer said, however, that her company made its position clear when approached by state officials two years ago and again after the reported sale of the Crown Coach property in December.

'Serious Questions'

"Maybe someone exaggerated our willingness to be cooperative," Saltzer said. "While we are aware in a general sense that the state has the power of condemnation, we have serious questions as to whether that right extends to this piece of property. And we are not conceding that the state has that right."

Blonien was in New York and unavailable for comment.

In a letter last week to Los Angeles City Councilman Gilbert Lindsay, Santa Fe said it would support a city-proposed "waste recovery facility" on its land as an alternative to the prison project.

Meanwhile, Auditor Gen. Thomas Hayes, in his critical report on the governor's overall prison building program, said a review of four of those projects turned up evidence that construction firms during the last two years were paid nearly $1 million more than was warranted.

Hayes said corrections officials negotiated agreements with construction and management firms without first estimating what the projects would cost. In some cases, auditors charged, construction workers and managers were paid as much as 47% more than what would be considered normal.

Corrections officials agreed to implement many of Hayes' recommendations. N. A. Chaderjian, secretary of the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency, said, however, that the criticisms do not take into account the complexity of building 10 prisons.

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