A county supervisor is proposing limiting the planned expansion of the James A. Musick branch jail in Lake Forest to 3,600 beds--less than half of what the county could build--but Lake Forest and Irvine would have to find a new jail site.
Chairwoman Cynthia P. Coad floated the idea in a closed board session Tuesday. Her plan was presented to representatives of both cities last week.
In exchange for a smaller jail, Irvine and Lake Forest would have to find--and pay for--an acceptable remote site to handle the rest of the county's future jail needs. The county, however, would be free to return to its current plan for 7,968 beds at Musick if the cities could not find another site.
The county has the authority to dramatically expand Musick and add maximum-security prisoners. The facility sits 700 feet from Lake Forest homes. Irvine and Lake Forest fought that plan, but the state Supreme Court last month allowed the expansion to proceed.
Reactions to Coad's proposal were mixed Tuesday. Lake Forest Councilman Peter Herzog said the city prefers a previous county offer--since rescinded--that would have capped Musick at 4,400 beds. That offer, rejected by Irvine, was endorsed by Sheriff Michael S. Carona and county supervisors.
"All I can say is that discussions are ongoing," said Herzog, declining to discuss the latest proposal.
When asked by a reporter about Coad's offer, Irvine Mayor Larry Agran said the lower bed cap was agreeable but not the condition calling for the cities to find a ready-to-build jail site. Among the requirements is for the cities to get agreement from any city and "recognized community organizations" within one mile of the site.
"Those provisions are troubling, to say the least," Agran said.
He has argued that the county should comply with a ballot measure approved last year that would require two-thirds voter approval for any more than 999 additional beds at Musick. Measure F was overturned in December by a Los Angeles County judge; that decision is under appeal.
Last month, Irvine officials tried to persuade Coad to link Musick's fate to that of 853 housing units that sit unused at the former El Toro Marine base, where the county plans to build an airport.
The county has balked at allowing people to live there. Irvine, which opposes the airport, wants to annex the land; new residents then could vote to become part of Irvine. Without anyone living there, the county can stop the annexation.
Irvine's proposal suggested that the city would be willing to let the base be deemed "uninhabited" for the annexation process.
Coad said she had three meetings with Agran and Irvine Councilman Chris Mears about Musick; linking the housing issue with the jail "was one of the first things that was mentioned." She said Supervisors Tom Wilson and Chuck Smith nixed discussing the two at separate meetings.
"The housing issue needs to be addressed by Irvine but it's not part of the [jail issue]," Coad said.
Smith said he was "not sure yet" about the merits of Coad's proposal but agreed that the housing issue should be resolved separately.