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Santa Clarita Valley : Bid to Put Prison in Castaic Fuels Cityhood Petition

Times Staff Writer

The latest proposal to put a state prison near residential neighborhoods in the Santa Clarita Valley has given impetus to the slumping drive to forge a city from five unincorporated communities in the area of northern Los Angeles County.

More than 1,000 signatures of registered voters were added to petitions favoring cityhood last weekend, many of them at an anti-prison rally Saturday in Castaic, according to Connie Worden, spokeswoman for the citizens’ group leading the drive. It was the largest number of signatures collected in a single weekend since Jan. 2 when the City Feasibility Committee began circulating petitions to unite Newhall, Valencia, Castaic, Canyon Country and Saugus, she said.

“We had to register a lot of Castaic residents to vote before we had them sign petitions,” Worden said. “But we don’t mind that.”

Many of those at the rally were not registered because they recently had purchased homes in the area, she said.

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July 1 Deadline

The new signatures bring the total on petitions to more than 9,000, Worden said. Cityhood backers have until July 1 to collect 12,000 signatures to qualify the proposal as a measure on the April, 1987, ballot. Worden said the committee’s goal is to gather 13,000 names “for insurance,” in the event some signatures are found to be invalid.

Proponents maintain that cityhood would give residents more control over development and decisions on where to locate prisons. They also say that politicians tend to target the Santa Clarita Valley for institutions such as prisons because the area is viewed as isolated and rural.

“What they fail to see is that there are 100,000 people up here willing to band together and fight,” Worden said.

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More than 350 residents gathered Saturday at a rally protesting the designation of the Peter J. Pitchess Honor Rancho in Castaic as the site of a new 1,700-bed state prison. The Assembly Public Safety Committee last week approved a bill by Assemblywoman Gloria Molina (D-Los Angeles) to put the prison in Castaic instead of at the so-called Crown Coach site in downtown Los Angeles. The measure was sent to the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, where a vote is scheduled Wednesday.

Saugus Location Opposed

Last October, a proposal by Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley to put the same prison on a 520-acre, city-owned tract in Saugus drew equally strong opposition from residents. They pointed out that the Santa Clarita Valley already houses more than 5,000 inmates at the Pitchess Honor Rancho, which is a county jail, and at seven other county and state facilities.

“I’m so tired of fighting the battle every time they want to dump something out here,” said Robin Geissler, who last fall founded the 150-member Citizens for Fair Prison Sites to oppose the prison. Cityhood, she said, would give residents more clout to stop politicians from putting prisons near their homes.

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In recent weeks, Worden said, the “tremendous enthusiasm” shown in January when the cityhood drive was launched had lessened and signature-gathering had slowed. But Molina’s prison bill breathed new life into the campaign, she said.

“Now, I’m more confident that we’ll get the numbers of signatures we need,” she said.


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