SACRAMENTO — Compromise legislation authorizing the construction of two new prisons in Los Angeles County unexpectedly stalled in the Assembly Tuesday after Republicans whose districts would be affected by the bill suggested yet a third possible location.
Although the bill had appeared to be on the fast track to Gov. George Deukmejian's desk, the new proposal--which would place a prison in Hungry Valley, an uninhabited high desert area near Gorman--prompted lawmakers to delay a decision while backers try to line up support.
If approved, the proposal would require environmental studies of all three sites. In the event the Hungry Valley area proved feasible, the two other sites currently named in the bill--one near the Mira Loma Jail west of Lancaster and another site sought by the governor on Los Angeles' Eastside--would be dropped.
Even before the plan could be voted on, Deukmejian sent word through aides that he would veto the bill should it reach his desk in that form.
Other supporters of the two-prison compromise asserted that if a third prison is added to the bill, the measure may not be able to win the two-thirds majority needed for passage in the Assembly. The two-prison bill passed the Senate 29 to 6 on Monday after a similar proposal for a third prison in the high desert failed to attract support.
"I think we may have lost the bill," Sen. Robert Presley, author of the prison legislation, dejectedly told an aide. Later, Presley predicted that the new proposal "could torpedo" any chance for locating a prison in Los Angeles County.
Assemblyman Phillip D. Wyman (R-Tehachapi), who suggested the Hungry Valley alternative, insisted that he has no intention of holding up a vote on the prison bill, but said he was "encouraged" by the Assembly's agreement to allow more time for discussion of his proposal.
Noting that the two-prison bill would affect districts represented by lawmakers of both parties, Wyman added: "We feel we can solve the need (for) a prison in Los Angeles without leaving Republican or Democratic blood on the floor."
Wyman's proposal came as the Assembly took the rare action of waiving rules so the prison bill could be heard and approved by two committees and sent to the Assembly floor. Sponsors of the bill had hoped to have it on Deukmejian's desk by day's end.
But the introduction of the third prison proposal sent the Assembly into confusion. Dozens of members had planned to attend Tuesday evening's All-Star Game in Oakland and many also were expected to get an early start Thursday on a four-week legislative vacation.
Saying that members would need at least two hours to change clothes and get to the Oakland Coliseum, Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) gaveled the session to a close shortly after 2 p.m.
Attempts earlier in the day to amend the third prison proposal into the Presley bill failed by narrow margins in both the Public Safety Committee and the Ways and Means Committee.
But the Hungry Valley proposal was rejected by such such narrow margins that Assembly leaders decided the idea ought to be considered again on the floor.
The Hungry Valley site named in the proposal is part of about 20,000 acres of state-owned land along Interstate 5 north of Gorman. Much of the site is used for an off-road vehicle park. But Wyman said about 200 acres is up for sale by the state and much of that would be suitable for a prison.
Officials of the Department of Corrections, however, said the site was considered and rejected because it is plagued by earthquake faults and is too remote from necessary services and the courts.
Nonetheless, the Hungry Valley proposal was immediately embraced by a group of liberal Democrats and by an extraordinary coalition of lawmakers from both parties whose districts were targeted for prisons in the original bill.
Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles), whose district includes the Eastside prison site, called Wyman's proposal "an absolutely ideal Solomon approach." He added that Deukmejian would be "hard pressed" to veto the bill because of a state law that prevents two new prisons in San Diego and near Stockton from opening until the Los Angeles prison dispute is resolved.
But Republican Assemblyman Larry Stirling of San Diego derided the Hungry Valley proposal as "an outrageous monkey wrench thrown into the works . . . That's not a compromise."
Others said the prison bill ran into trouble because Deukmejian has been reluctant to say whether he would sign even the two-prison bill passed by the Senate.
Patrick Kenady, a top corrections official who has negotiated on behalf of the Administration, described the two-prison bill as "the closest we think we can get to a compromise." As to the third prison plan, Kenady said it "is too little, too late."