Saying they want to negotiate rather than litigate, Orange City Council members decided Monday to delay suing the county over the expansion of the Theo Lacy branch jail and try instead to reach a compromise.
Orange Mayor Jess F. Perez said after the council met in a closed session that the city wants to discuss its continuing concerns over the number and type of inmates to be housed at the jail and whether they would be released in Orange or Santa Ana when they complete their sentences.
But two county supervisors said they would favor talks with the city only if some new information is brought forward. Perez gave no indication that anything new had evolved.
Last week, in an effort to head off a lawsuit, the supervisors cut back the size of the expansion, agreeing to limit the number of inmates at the jail to 1,437, rather than the 1,737 proposed by county planners.
The supervisors also agreed not to put maximum-security inmates at the branch jail.
Despite the supervisors' actions, Perez said then that "my intention right now is to recommend litigation."
However, after Monday's two-hour meeting of the council, its city attorney and a private lawyer hired to study the county's jail documents, Perez said it was "in the best interests of the city and the county to avoid litigation if it is at all possible."
He said he will send a letter to the county outlining the city's concerns and hopes that the supervisors at their Dec. 16 meeting would reverse last week's decision on the Lacy expansion.
"If the (supervisors') answer is no . . . I will be coming back and renewing my proposal to litigate," Perez said.
Supervisors Thomas F. Riley, Gaddi H. Vasquez and Don R. Roth declined specific comment on the City Council's decision until they see Perez' letter.
But both Riley and Vasquez said they wanted to see something new, not a rehash of the city's objections.
"There obviously would have to be some very compelling reasons for me to reconsider the decision," Vasquez said. Riley agreed.
Roth, who put together last week's compromise, said county planners who had hoped to gain more jail beds were as unhappy with the resulting plan as were Orange officials.
"I find that any time both sides are unhappy with a compromise, it must be a pretty good one," Roth said.
Perez and fellow council members Joanne Coontz and Gene Beyer demanded before last week's vote that there be no expansion of Lacy at all. Perez said Monday that he still believes that his city "has done its fair share" to help the county solve its jail overcrowding problem.
But council members Fred L. Barrera and Don Smith said that they realize that a federal judge has ordered the county to improve jail conditions and that they are willing to accept the expansion, although they do not like it.
Vasquez said the existence of the Barrera-Smith willingness to negotiate, while "the majority were not willing to negotiate," made the supervisors' decision more difficult.
County planners had envisioned a $38-million expansion of Lacy, with two new dormitory-style buildings to hold minimum- and maximum-security prisoners and two new buildings with cells, to hold maximum-security inmates.
The maximum-security inmates would be women. Moving women from the main women's jail in downtown Santa Ana would gain the county 300 additional beds for maximum-security male inmates, which Sheriff Brad Gates said a year ago he needed.