An emissary from the City of Orange warned county supervisors Tuesday that they may be sued over their plans to expand a branch jail in that city.
Bob Bennyhoff, one of three members of a special committee on jails appointed by the Orange City Council, told the supervisors that they appeared "headed for another gunfight at the supervisors' corral."
Bennyhoff said that if the county did not supply better answers to the city's questions about the expansion, his committee would "very reluctantly" recommend to the City Council that it "take very strong legal action to block the expansion of Theo Lacy" branch jail.
His warning followed a Monday night meeting in which businessmen, residents and an Orange city official confronted county officials about the proposed expansion. The meeting culminated in a verbal exchange between lawyers representing the two sides.
Susan Trager, a lawyer for the city, complained to a county lawyer that she kept getting inconsistent answers on the expansion and said that from "both sides of your mouth, it's dribbling out."
The county's lawyer, John C. Funk, told Trager that she was engaging in a "typical sort of diatribe."
Anaheim sued the county last year over the supervisors' decision to build a new jail near Anaheim Stadium.
A week ago, 1,000 people rallied against the county's decision to build yet another jail, this one a 6,000-inmate facility, in Gypsum and Coal canyons in northeastern Orange County near the Riverside Freeway. Residents opposed to that site are trying to place an initiative on next year's ballot requiring that all future jails be built in Santa Ana.
Monday night's meeting at the Hall of Administration in Santa Ana was called by county staff members to get comments on the environmental impact report issued by the county. That report, with comments and objections, will go to the Planning Commission and then the supervisors later this year.
At the meeting, William G. Steiner, executive director of the Orangewood Children's Foundation, objected to the county's plans to put maximum-security inmates at what is now a facility for minimum-security offenders.
The foundation raised the money from private donors for the Orangewood home for abused and neglected children, which is next to the Lacy jail. Steiner said that 1,737 inmates at Lacy would be "far in excess" of what the neighborhood should have to contend with.
There are 721 men imprisoned at Lacy. Adding up to 1,016 additional male and female inmates would make it the county's largest jail, exceeding by about 200 the number held in the main men's jail in downtown Santa Ana.
Byron Wilder, an attorney representing The City Shopping Center, which is across The City Drive from Lacy, said if the expansion went through without modifications, "then we will probably take legal action to oppose it."
Orange City Manager William Little agreed that if the plans are not changed, "We are going to do the same thing to you guys (in the county) that the City of Anaheim did, and that is draw it out as long as possible."
After the meeting, Trager and Funk squared off, with Funk contending that Orange officials never responded to repeated county invitations to comment, and Trager saying that the county was trying to rush the environmental impact reporting process.
Little told Funk that it appeared that the county had already decided to expand Lacy and was now trying to come up with a document to justify the decision.
"We do the same thing in the City of Orange, so don't try to take a high and mighty attitude on it," Little said.
Bennyhoff raised the same questions with the supervisors that he did with county staff members Monday night.
He asked why 300 of the new cells will be for maximum-security female inmates, when the Sheriff's Department said it never has anywhere near that number. And he wondered whether the cells would someday house maximum-security male inmates.
In addition, Bennyhoff wondered why the supervisors promised that inmates at the planned Gypsum/Coal canyons jail would not be released from that facility but from a branch jail in Santa Ana, while planning to release inmates from Lacy near schools, the UCI Medical Center and The City Shopping Center.
"The residents of Orange wonder why?. . . . The people of Orange would like to know. . . . We think the people of Orange deserve an explanation why this board apparently favors the people of Anaheim Hills over the City of Orange," Bennyhoff declared.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Roger R. Stanton told county staff members to provide the answers if they had them and find them if they did not.