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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Officials Pick El Rio Site for New Juvenile Detention Center

March 29, 2000|ANNA GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ventura County supervisors Tuesday selected a 45-acre strawberry field north of Oxnard as the site for a new juvenile detention center, despite safety concerns expressed by about a dozen school and community leaders.

The board voted 4 to 1 in favor of the El Rio site, saying the county can move forward more quickly with the $65-million project by purchasing a property with only one owner. The previously preferred site, a Saticoy flower farm, has two owners and a third party in escrow for a portion of the land.

Chief Probation Officer Cal Remington said he was relieved the board approved a site, because the county is under a tight deadline. Officials risk losing $40.5 million in state funds if they don't have the detention center up and running by fall 2003.

"It was tough for the board to make this decision, especially because of all the opposition," Remington said. "But it was the best decision. It'll serve this county now and for the next 50 to 100 years."

Supervisor John Flynn, whose district includes the proposed site, voted against building the 540-bed center in El Rio, and said he favored constructing a multistory facility in a Ventura County Government Center parking lot.

"We should build the facility right here," he said. "We need to build up, instead of out."

Some El Rio and Oxnard residents said they were concerned about the lack of waste-water services and the possibility of increased traffic in the area.

And school leaders urged the board to oppose the El Rio site because of its proximity to school campuses.

"We don't want to risk the safety of our children," said George Perez, president of the Rio Elementary school board. "And we feel it sends a negative message to our community."

But Supervisor Judy Mikels said the current Juvenile Hall, located on Hillmont Avenue, has not presented any security problems for midtown Ventura. Rather, she believes that the presence of permanent law enforcement raises the level of security in the community.

"I do not believe all the doom and dire will come to pass if we put the site in El Rio," she said.

During Tuesday's board meeting, supervisors also certified the project's final environmental impact report, agreed to spend up to $24.5 million as the county's investment in the project, and approved a contract with an architectural and engineering firm, Kaplan, McLaughlin & Diaz Justice of San Francisco.

County officials said they plan to buy the El Rio property next month, in time for a scheduled report to the state Board of Corrections on their progress.

The county considered four other sites: a parcel in Oxnard, land on Lewis Road south of Camarillo, the County Government Center location and the flower farm in Saticoy. Officials examined several factors, including traffic, drainage, air pollution and layout of the properties.

The county previously preferred the Saticoy site, until officials expressed concern about possible lengthy condemnation proceedings. Though the two principal owners were willing to sell, a third party was in escrow for four of the acres. Mark Wintz, the prospective buyer, said he wasn't opposed to the detention center, but did not want to be "nudged out" of the property.

Both the probation department and the office of the chief administrative officer recommended the El Rio location, west of Vineyard Avenue between Lambert and Beedy streets. The property, which is used to grow strawberries despite its industrial zoning, is expected to cost the county about $4 million.

Officials said they also selected the site because it does not border any residential neighborhoods and has room for expansion.

The detention center will replace Ventura County's aging and overcrowded Juvenile Hall. Though there are only 84 beds available, there were 126 juveniles in the detention center last weekend.

The new facility is designed to hold up to 540 inmates. The project's first phase would include a detention center with space for 420. Officials hope the site will eventually include 120 additional beds, six courtrooms for juvenile and family law and offices for attorneys, counselors and probation officers.

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