Gov. George Deukmejian joined a war on arson-caused wild land and forest fires Tuesday and then built a political backfire of his own with charges that Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley had deliberately misrepresented the facts about a state prison-building program.
The Republican governor, in response to a question about “a new, tough-talking, aggressive” Bradley as a Democratic candidate for governor, commented, “It appears to me that he is a recycled Tom Bradley.”
Deukmejian told reporters after a kick-off for the anti-arsonist drive that his Administration has a “very good, strong record” to take to the voters in his reelection bid next year. But, he said, he does not think the public is much interested in politics right now.
Asked about Bradley’s criticism in two Labor Day speeches, however, Deukmejian said, “It’s unfortunate that the mayor could go out and make some deliberate misrepresentations just because he is apparently getting ready to run for governor.”
Bradley called the Deukmejian Administration’s billion-dollar prison construction plan “a fiasco.” He noted that California voters had approved a $495-million prison construction bond issue in 1982 and passed another $300-million prison bond issue last year.
Yet, Bradley said, today 48,000 inmates are crammed into facilities built for 29,000, and plans to expand Folsom and Soledad state prisons are more than a year behind schedule. At Vacaville, he said, prisoners sleep in converted kitchens while waiting for expansion of facilities that may not be completed until next spring.
Responding to Bradley’s charges, Deukmejian said that when the mayor made similar statements earlier, the governor wrote and “explained to him what the actual facts were.”
“We have used the bond funds that the people authorized to create facilities that now are housing approximately 5,000 additional prisoners, and those bond funds are also being used for the construction of other facilities that are going to create an additional 6,000 beds for the inmates,” Deukmejian said. “We are under way, although we have had some difficulties as a result of some of the court decisions.”
He said he could not recall that Bradley had ever helped to create a new prison in Los Angeles County, which sends inmates into the state prison system but has no state prison.
Deukmejian was at the Los Angeles County Fire Department Headquarters near the California State University, Los Angeles, campus along with a costumed Smokey the Bear and four members of the Los Angeles Raiders defensive line to invite the public to join in catching arsonists.
“Arson-caused fires are rapidly becoming the No. 1 fire problem in California,” he said. “In the five years from 1980 to 1985, there were more than 9,500 arson-caused wild-land fires in our state. As a direct result of these fires, more than 500 homes were destroyed . . . and we also unfortunately lost 10 individuals.”
The Raiders’ Dave Stalls--there with teammates Greg Townsend, Bill Pickel and Sean Jones-- urged the public to become “arson busters” by getting a description and license number of any suspect and his vehicle.
The campaign to stop arsonists was launched by the California Interagency Wildland Arson Prevention Committee, composed of federal, state and local agencies. It is called Wildland Arson Response (WAR).