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Searching for a Site for a New Orange County Jail

September 25, 1988

Has "1984" belatedly come to Orange County? Are we witnessing social Darwinism run amok? The issue at hand is the ongoing debate regarding the best placement of the next long-term jail facility in Orange County.

After considerable discussion and decision-making, the Board of Supervisors determined to build the new jail in Gypsum Canyon. This certainly seemed to be a rational decision, given that it would place the new jail in a lightly populated area and provide some assurance that our densely populated neighborhoods would not be violated by the presence of a jail facility teeming with some 6,700 lawbreakers. But somewhere along the line, things got turned upside down.

More than 100,000 citizens of Orange County got behind a proposed ballot initiative that would mandate all new jails to be built in Santa Ana. One of the most endearing arguments made for the placement of all new jails in Santa Ana was that this would protect the neighborhoods--those not in Santa Ana! All of the noble sentiments voiced for not placing the new jail in Gypsum Canyon were apparently not applicable to the people and children of Santa Ana. And, the impudence, the impudence of it all!

Are these people really saying that it is better to place a huge jail facility--and all future jail facilities--in densely populated Santa Ana rather than in lightly populated areas? Are the people and children and neighborhoods of Santa Ana any less precious than those of the petitioners? Was it assumed that the inhabitants of Santa Ana would not take notice, stand up and rise with righteous indignation and say, "Don't tread on us!"?

Latinos and other ethnic minorities have become the majority in Santa Ana, and we no longer respond with downcast eyes. Our eyes are not on the ground; they are on the prize. Santa Ana is not the Devil's Island of Orange County!

That Gaddi Vasquez should be leading the fight to put this huge jail in the most Latino city in Orange County is bitterly ironic. Those of us who have long championed the presence of Latinos and other minorities at all levels of government because we fervently believe that they can bring an added measure of sensitivity must take a harder look at the Vasquezes of this world.

On more than one occasion, Gaddi Vasquez has disallowed his ethnicity as a factor in his avian-like soar to the company of the elite. History is replete with those who suffered that a Gaddi Vasquez could be where he is today. To deny this truth is to substitute arrogance for awareness. Ethnicity has to be more than an accident of birth. If Latinos and other not fully enfranchised people are looking for a champion, we had better not look to Gaddi Vasquez. Vasquez has been tested and he has been found wanting.

RITA MONTES

Chair,

United Latino Democrats

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