South County : Group Argues Against Proposed Jail Sites

A committee of south Orange County business and civic leaders is opposing three sites proposed by the county for a 6,000-bed jail needed to alleviate overcrowding at the Santa Ana facility.

The committee, comprising city and chamber of commerce representatives from San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano and Dana Point, recently completed a yearlong study of the three sites in south county and concluded, in a letter to be sent to the Board of Supervisors, that south county "has particular and unique circumstances which . . . should eliminate it from consideration as a location for such an incarceration facility."

A private consultant hired by the county is preparing environmental impact reports on eight proposed jail sites, including the Prima Deshecha site, near Ortega Highway and San Juan Capistrano, the Pico site, northeast of San Clemente near the Riverside County border, and the Trabuco Creek site, east of Mission Viejo.

The committee of south county representatives rejected all three sites for a number of reasons. While the sites are in remote areas today, they would be near population centers as planned developments in the backcountry are built out over the next decade, the committee report says. The sites' proximity to the San Onofre nuclear power plant would complicate evacuation plans in the event of a leak, the report says, and their distance from the courts in Santa Ana would result in high transportation costs. The high cost of housing in south county would be a problem for jail employees and families of inmates who wanted to relocate, it says, and the jail would overburden local sewer, water and school districts. Finally, the committee report says that fears of escaped prisoners could harm an important industry in the area, tourism.

The report and accompanying letter are being circulated for signatures among the committee members and will probably be sent to the supervisors in late January or early February, committee spokeswoman Mimi Hodgson said.

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