Democratic Assembly Speaker Willie Brown Friday scuttled a plan to include a controversial downtown Los Angeles prison site in Gov. George Deukmejian’s emergency bill to construct facilities for 5,000 convicts around the state.
Brown (D-San Francisco) declared the Los Angeles site should not be a part of a bill that the Deukmejian Administration was attempting to push through the Legislature before its scheduled recess Friday night.
The lawmakers will not reconvene until Jan. 6 unless Deukmejian decides to call a special session on prisons or other issues. Asked if he believes the governor will call a special session, Brown snapped, “The governor and I don’t speak the same language.
‘Why Can’t We Wait?’
“That (Los Angeles) prison can’t be built for a long time, so why can’t we wait until next January and hold a public hearing on the issue? Let everybody testify, including the man who owns the property.”
The property is partly owned by Crown Coach International.
“This thing is going to be looked at in the light of day,” the Assembly Speaker said. “I want everybody connected with it up here to testify.”
Deukmejian’s plan to deal with severe prison inmate overcrowding would add 5,000 prison beds by converting day-use facilities at several institutions and increasing the number of cells at low- and medium-security institutions in Tehachapi, Jamestown and Susanville.
In order to accomplish this by next July 1 and avoid criticism during his fall reelection campaign, the governor originally hoped the Legislature would waive requirements for time-consuming environmental impact reports in advance of construction.
But Assembly Democrats refused to go along with a total waiver, substituting a so-called fast-track review that would shave several months off the process.
Rod Blonien, an undersecretary of the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency, said the governor would be “disappointed” if the downtown Los Angeles prison site was not also included in the bill
He planned to continue negotiations with Brown on Friday night in hopes of persuading him to change his position.
Asked if the governor would try again to obtain the Los Angeles prison next year if he failed Friday, Blonien said, “If you don’t get the property now, you may never get it because it could be sold by then.”
The Senate earlier this month approved a bill to spend $31.4 million to purchase 30 acres of land about two miles southeast of the Los Angeles Civic Center for the prison project.
But this legislation still has to undergo a lengthy Assembly hearing process. The Administration wanted to speed things up by amending the site legislation into another measure already awaiting a vote on the lower house floor--and that is why the emergency prison package was targeted.
Los Angeles currently has no state prison, despite the fact that 38% of the state’s male convicts come from the Los Angeles area.
In other action, the Legislature gave final approval to a bill authorizing construction of a 3,000-bed state prison at Corcoran in Kings County and enlarging the proposed prison at Ione in Amador County from 1,200 to 1,700 beds.
The measure by Assemblyman Jim Costa (D-Fresno) also aims at defeating a lawsuit that opposes building a second prison in Kings County at Avenal. Costa’s bill passed the Senate on a 36-0 vote and was sent to the governor hours later, when the Assembly accepted Senate amendments on a 65-8 vote.