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Supervisor's Plan for New Jail Criticized

March 30, 1989|DENISE HAMILTON | Times Staff Writer

Ventura County Supervisor John Flynn on Wednesday unveiled a detailed plan to build a 400-cell jail at the county Government Center, but it was immediately attacked by other county officials, including Sheriff John Gillespie.

The plan would also expand three other minimum-security facilities already operated by the county.

"I am 100% diametrically opposed to the entire plan," Gillespie said in an interview. "It does not meet the criteria of the state Board of Corrections and the language of the jail bond itself, and we've told Mr. Flynn this many times. Everybody in the county is pulling in one direction and Mr. Flynn's pulling in another."

The proposal also drew skeptical response from Supervisors Maggie Erickson, Madge L. Schaefer and Jim Dougherty, who said Flynn's plan would increase staffing costs and fail to meet long-term jail needs. The county must pick a site and start construction by late 1990 to qualify for $40 million in state funds.

"I think this is just a minor diversion," Schaefer said of Flynn's plan. She also criticized Flynn for his plans to disperse inmates throughout county facilities, but exclude his own supervisorial district of Oxnard.

"Forty-eight percent of the jail population comes from Oxnard, yet John doesn't propose anything in Oxnard," Schaefer said, citing inmate population figures supplied by Gillespie. (The city of Ventura comes in second highest with 16% of the inmates.)

Flynn's plan, which he disclosed at a Wednesday morning press conference, calls for building a 400-cell facility at the Government Center and adding space for another 50 inmates at the East Valley sheriff's station, an additional 100 at the sheriff's Honor Farm in Ojai and 150 at a proposed work furlough facility near Rose Valley.

Flynn also proposed building a seven-story parking structure--three of the floors underground--to replace the parking areas that would be forfeited for the new jail.

Plan Assailed

"I'm offering something that's practical, achievable, that could go up in a couple of years. If we don't get moving, we're going to lose the little money we have," Flynn said.

But critics assailed Flynn's plan as impractical and unachievable, and added that it would set the county back two years in planning.

According to Gillespie, the plan is flawed because it does not meet state jail bond requirements that require a new facility to have a potential capacity for 2,000 cells. In addition, Gillespie said the county's contract with the U.S. Forest Service allows for no more than 160 inmates at Rose Valley.

"We can't expand that," he said.

Erickson said Wednesday that she favors moving forward with a master plan that calls for a jail complex of six two-story modular buildings spread out over 20 acres, with 80 acres remaining in open space. The jail is to be a medium-security facility that eventually could house up to 2,000 inmates, and would include recreational areas and a facility where prisoners could learn trades and "work as a revenue producer for the county," Erickson said.

Prove Expensive

A Dougherty spokesman said Flynn's plan would prove prohibitively expensive in the long run because of the higher staffing costs associated with a multistory building.

Flynn's proposal is the latest twist in the county's arduous battle for a new jail site. It already has 933 beds at four locations, but the Board of Corrections estimates that the county will need 962 more beds in the future to meet inmate growth.

Overcrowding is at an all-time high, Gillespie said. The county's jail population increased 115% between 1976 and 1986, according to state figures.

As a result, the County Jail, which was built to hold 400 inmates, holds more than 1,000 inmates at times, and two prisoners often share 70-square-foot cells meant for one. Some overflow prisoners sleep on bunks in day rooms.

The environmental impact report commissioned by the county initially only looked at two jail sites: 100 acres of farmland south of Hueneme and Nauman roads and Toland Park near Santa Paula.

'Significant' Problems

But the county expanded the report to three more sites after the report found "significant" problems with the Hueneme Road location, in part because it would destroy prime agricultural land. In addition, Oxnard city officials complained that a jail would cast a shadow on a resort planned for nearby Ormond Beach.

But the Toland Park site also had problems. Located half a mile north of California 126 in the Santa Clara River Valley on a county-owned site overgrown with chaparral, it would require up to $8 million in grading, Erickson said.

In addition, since Toland is a dedicated park, the county would be forced to set aside similar acreage for park use in another part of the county.

The additional areas under review are Todd Road between Ventura and Santa Paula off California 126, and two locations off Pleasant Valley Road, one of them near Camarillo State Hospital, Erickson said.

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