For the third week in a row, the Irvine City Council delayed voting Tuesday on a proposal that could have cleared the way for an expansion of the James A. Musick Branch Jail.
"It's not been an easy discussion with the county and the sheriff," Mayor Christina L. Shea said. "We're trying to come up with the answer that makes the most sense for the community."
The council set a special session for 4 p.m. Friday at City Hall to hear public comment on the plan and will make a decision at that meeting.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors has voted to expand its 1,100-bed jail in Irvine into a maximum-security facility that would house 7,500 inmates. But Irvine and Lake Forest filed a lawsuit to block the plan after an outcry from residents.
The county recently presented the Irvine council with a compromise that would allow Musick to expand but cap the number of inmates at 4,600. In exchange, Irvine officials agreed to drop their lawsuit.
Sheriff Mike Carona, who promised during his election campaign to reverse the Musick expansion, has pushed for a compromise before March 7. Voters will go to the polls that day to decide Measure F, which would require a two-thirds majority to approve construction or expansion of any jail, airport or toxic landfill within a half-mile of homes.
A county selection committee searching for a site for a new jail identified four possibilities last fall. They are Fremont Canyon near Orange, Chiquita Canyon near Mission Viejo and two sites near Irvine: one north of Limestone Canyon and one north of the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.
But city officials say those are not the only options.
"These are not at this point the final sites by any way, means or shape," said Councilman Greg Smith, who serves with Shea on the selection committee.
Orange County has been under a federal judge's order since 1985 to alleviate jail overcrowding.