Moving to break a prolonged deadlock, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday approved over Deukmejian Administration opposition a bill that would authorize two state prisons in Los Angeles County, one near the urban Los Angeles Eastside and the other near rural Lancaster.
The action to get a Democratic-sponsored "compromise" bill moving through the Legislature occurred amid a Republican warning that Gov. George Deukmejian would veto it because it contained environmental impact requirements that would delay construction of the urban prison he strongly supports.
But Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), a foe of the Eastside institution who said he is anxious to break the two-year deadlock over the facility, called the bill a "major compromise" and voiced "hope that the governor at some point puts himself also in a compromise mode."
While the committee voted 6 to 3 to send the bill to the Appropriations Committee for another hearing, the action did little more than move the issue off dead center and give its supporters an opportunity to demonstrate that they are acting to resolve the long impasse.
Deukmejian has steadfastly refused to give up on a controversial Eastside site once owned by Crown Coach International, even after the property was sold for development as an industrial park. Supported by residents of the largely Latino area, Senate Democrats have insisted, among other things, that the site undergo an environmental impact study before it is purchased.
The governor argued that such a study would unnecessarily delay construction of the prison at a time when California prisons are severely overcrowded, and he said an environmental assessment can be made later. In addition, two nearly completed prisons at San Diego and Stockton cannot be opened for occupancy until a Los Angeles County site is picked.
The bill, fashioned by Democrats, would authorize construction of prisons in the Eastside area and concurrently west of Lancaster, either at a county detention facility at Mira Loma or at Fox Field, a county airport. In both cases, a shortened environmental impact study would be conducted before the land sale.
The desert penitentiary, in an area represented by Republicans Sen. Newton R. Russell of Glendale and county Supervisor Mike Antonovich, was proposed as a way of spreading the prison burden among both city dwellers and those in the countryside.
Patrick Kenady, representing the Administration, told the committee that the bill by Sen. Robert Presley (D-Riverside) fell far short of meeting Deukmejian's demand, asserting that the governor has said "that he will not support any legislation that will delay or impede a downtown site."
Sen. Ed Davis (R-Valencia) noted that he met with Deukmejian last week and repeated the governor's intention to veto legislation that proposes an environmental study in advance of site selection.
"It's useless to beat ourselves to death," said Davis, who voted no on the bill. "We just haven't come together yet. I suggest you park the bill."
But Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles), whose district includes the proposed Crown Coach site and who also voted against the bill, accused the governor of entrenched stubbornness. Aiming his remarks at Deukmejian, he declared: "Crown Coach is jinxed. It's over. George, give it up."
Presley, who has battled for two years to locate a prison in Los Angeles County, proposed a set of amendments that he said would enable the Administration to tie up the Eastside site through a lease with an option to purchase, by condemnation litigation or through environmental studies. Kenady, however, said the amendments "do not authorize us to do anything and we would be opposed," and Presley withdrew them after conferring with fellow Democrats.
Later, Kenady told reporters that the amendments merely expressed the Legislature's intent to preserve the Eastside site and would not give the Department of Corrections specific authority to take action.
"We want the opportunity to tie the property down through some type of procedure prior to an environmental impact report," he said.