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Factions Square Off in Feud Over Plans for New County Jail

April 27, 1989|DENISE HAMILTON | Times Staff Writer

Despite Ventura County Supervisor John Flynn's attempts to rally support for building a new jail at the Government Center, all four of his board colleagues say they lean toward building the jail in a rural area that would allow for future expansion.

Their sentiments spell an uphill fight for Flynn, who needs backing by three of the five board members to move forward.

"I don't think John's got the votes on the board to do this," said Supervisor Jim Dougherty, echoing the sentiments of other board members. "We have to put in a facility that can be added on to later, and to not plan for that is not facing up to reality."

In addition, Flynn's plan is headed for problems in the environmental review process, said a county official familiar with the jail project.

"Traffic would be a very, very big . . . concern environmentally. There are serious concerns with constructing the jail at the Government Center at this time," said Dave Robertson, a county senior administrative analyst.

Flynn, who has held two news conferences in three weeks to publicize his plan, said his proposal meets minimum state jail requirements by using available funds. He criticized Sheriff John Gillespie's plan as providing "luxuries" and said ferrying inmates to and from a remote rural jail for hearings would also add to traffic.

Flynn added that the "man on the street" supports him, even if the bureaucrats do not.

"I've had 50 calls in support of my plan," Flynn said, adding of his detractors that "I think I've got the whole group on the run."

Dougherty said those supporters probably do not include residents near the East Valley sheriff's station outside Thousand Oaks, where Flynn wants to add 50 beds.

"I know those people and they would go sky-high if you tried to put 50 beds out there," Dougherty said.

Flynn hopes for a groundswell of public backing and has called for a meeting with the sheriff to discuss their respective plans. He also said at Tuesday's board meeting that he looks forward to airing his views at public hearings before the board's vote.

Beset by jail overcrowding and a growing inmate population, Ventura County needs a new jail. The county must pick a site and start construction by fall, 1990, to qualify for state bond monies. Five locations are under environmental review, including Todd Road between Ventura and Santa Paula off California 126, two locations off Pleasant Valley Road, an area near Rancho Sespe and the county Government Center in Ventura.

400-Cell Facility

In the past several months, Flynn has emerged as a determined champion of building a 400-cell jail at the Government Center and expanding county facilities at the Honor Farm in Ojai, the East Valley sheriff's station and a work furlough program at Rose Valley.

Flynn bases his proposal on figures he extrapolated from a state-of-the-art, multistory jail in Sacramento built for 1,200 inmates. Gillespie, in a news conference last week, lambasted Flynn's figures, calling them deliberately skewed. He called the calculations "an irresponsible example of misleading, incomplete information based upon incorrect assumptions."

In a news conference Monday, Flynn discussed his figures in more detail but failed to sway the sheriff. Gillespie maintains that Flynn's proposal does not provide enough room and would cost double the $25 million that Flynn has estimated.

Gillespie and several supervisors say they are disconcerted that Flynn is waging his campaign in the media instead of coming to them.

"This is the sort of thing we normally do not do in Ventura," said Supervisor Susan Lacey, adding that she did not believe that Flynn had garnered any support for his plan. "I didn't know he'd had a press conference--the first big one--and I felt uncomfortable answering questions when I hadn't seen the proposal."

Favors Campus Style

Lacey said she favors Gillespie's plan over Flynn's. "The sheriff and deputies are very much in favor of a campus-style jail. Based on the conversations I've had, I tend to support that."

Supervisor Madge L. Schaefer said she supports the sheriff's plan because it allocates money and space for an extensive inmate job-training program that would eventually create products, and thus revenue, to partially offset the cost of incarceration.

"It's a choice of building a warehouse or a facility that provides a revenue-generator," Schaefer said.

Flynn, in rebuttal, has said corrections industries are inefficient and notorious for their steep costs.

"Factories run by government don't work," he said. Instead, Flynn favors having inmates provide labor to public works programs.

Cost Concerns

Supervisor Maggie Erickson, who said she is leaning toward the sheriff's plan but reserving final judgment of Flynn's plan, said, "There are a lot of people who are saying to us if you can build it cheaper at the Government Center, you should do it there."

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