Can a county in which the airport and the sheriff's helicopters are named for John Wayne--where most residents are known for wanting to lock up criminals and throw away the key--vote against a jail?
If it is to be paid for through higher taxes, the answer may well be yes, according to county officials and political consultants.
On July 15, the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to build a huge jail facility in Gypsum and Coal canyons in northeast Orange County, sparking bitter opposition from nearby residents in Yorba Linda, Placentia and Anaheim Hills. The first phase of the jail will consist of buildings to hold several thousand prisoners; the eventual capacity is expected to be 6,191 inmates. It will cost more than $600 million.
Now the Board of Supervisors must find a way to come up with the money.
The most common method of financing such a project is a bond issue. But that would have to be approved by a two-thirds vote of the people, and a recent survey of voting trends turned up nothing to indicate that "a ballot measure to increase taxes for jail facilities would be successful in Orange County," County Administrative Officer Larry Parrish said last month.
Property Tax Increase
"Everyone says they want the jail," said political consultant Eileen Padberg, "but nobody wants to pay for it. Where do we get the money?"
Last Thursday, the Board of Supervisors decided to wait until November of 1988 to ask the voters to approve a property tax increase that would be used to pay off a general obligation bond issue covering the first phase of the project.
The county has not yet decided how large a bond issue will be sought and how much property taxes would have to go up.
The mammoth jail facility is intended to help solve the county's longstanding jail overcrowding problem, a situation that took on new urgency in March of 1985, when a federal judge found Sheriff Brad Gates and the supervisors in contempt of court for not heeding his 1978 order to end overcrowding in the main men's jail in Santa Ana.
Since then, the county's existing detention facilities have been expanded, and a site near Anaheim Stadium has been chosen for a 1,500-inmate jail--although how that jail will be financed has not been determined.
To keep overcrowding under control, Gates has been forced to let some men accused of crimes stay on the streets rather than behind bars while awaiting trial. That is a practice he and local police chiefs have opposed, and it is likely to be a key point in selling the bond issue to the voters.
The county has not had a vote on a general obligation bond issue since 1956, when voters turned down a request for $9.5 million to build a civic center with a courthouse, jail and county offices.
Padberg, who managed actor Clint Eastwood's successful campaign for mayor of Carmel last year and is handling Vice President George Bush's presidential campaign in Hawaii and California, has talked with county officials about running a pro-jail campaign, perhaps with political consultant Harvey Englander.
Three years ago, Padberg and her former associates tried unsuccessfully to persuade voters to pay an extra penny on the dollar in sales taxes for transportation improvements. She says the defeat of Proposition A taught her some of the problems of trying to get voters to open their pocketbooks.
Padberg said one problem is that voters cling to the belief that the government already has the money, and there is no need to raise taxes.
"I can't figure out how you prove that government does not have the money," she said. "That is the key question. How do you prove that? . . . The normal Orange County response is 'take more out of welfare.' Well, you can't take more out of welfare. . . . There just is not money to take from other sources."
Padberg also has run campaigns against ballot measures, opposing smoking bans and bottle deposit laws, among others. She said the "yes" campaigns are tougher.
"Most people are inherently, if they don't understand things, going to vote 'no,' " she said. "It is much tougher to get a voter to vote 'yes' for something because you've got to convince this guy or this woman that it is in his or her best interest."
Howard Garber certainly does not think a jail in Gypsum and Coal canyons is in his best interest.
Garber is about as law-and-order as they come, a retired optometrist who has founded several anti-crime groups to campaign for the death penalty and against former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird. He has traveled throughout the state to attend parole hearings and urge that criminals convicted of vicious crimes not be returned to the streets.
'Lower Property Values'
At the July 15 meeting of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, Garber said the proposed jail would "lower property values" in his neighborhood, Peralta Hills.
"I certainly do not oppose the construction of jails and prisons," Garber said last week. "On the other hand, I don't think they ought to proliferate in populated neighborhoods. They should be constructed in appropriate areas."
As for the a bond issue to pay for a jail in the canyons, Garber says, "I will oppose it."
Englander, who hopes that he and Padberg will be able to run the pro-jail campaign, said he believes the county will have "the time and the magic to convince the good law-and-order-supporting people of Orange County that you've got to spend money to put people in jail to have a good society."
Englander raised the possibility of putting a bond issue on the ballot a second time if it goes down in flames the first time, but added that "we'd like to put it on just once and pass it."
Supervisor Thomas F. Riley last Thursday mentioned other ways of financing a jail--such as certificates of participation or a lease-back arrangement. A certificate of participation is a form of financing in which the debt repayment is guaranteed by the county general fund. A lease-back arrangement would call for a private firm to own the jail complex and lease it to the county.
Neither requires voter approval, but both are more expensive than general obligation bonds, according to county officials.
Padberg said she believes voters can be persuaded to raise their property taxes to pay for the canyon jail but only after a campaign likely to cost more than $1 million that would feature law enforcement personnel as persuaders.
"Law enforcement has to be in the lead on this," she said. "I don't think (politicians) can effectively communicate the message that we need to have more jails. I think that's a law enforcement message."
Padberg has managed Sheriff Gates' successful election campaigns and said that he "is the most critical component in the whole campaign. . . . He speaks as the leader of law enforcement in Orange County, and he can tell the stories about the people they can't put in jail" because there is not enough room.
Gates could not be reached for comment.
Although pro-jail forces said it was far too early to know what kind of campaign will be waged, who will run it or what role Gates might play, Padberg expressed confidence that "if (the sheriff) feels his efforts will help get a jail built, then he will get involved."
And it was Gates who named his department's two helicopters "Duke 1 and Duke 2" in honor of the late John Wayne, an Orange County conservative in real life and the man who rode tall in the saddle to bring law and order to the West on the silver screen.