In a move that could kill a recently certified initiative designed to restrict jail construction, the Orange County counsel’s office on Monday told the Board of Supervisors it could ignore the measure because it may be unconstitutional.
The advice could breathe new life into a controversial plan to build a 6,000-bed jail in Gypsum Canyon near Anaheim. It was the passage of that plan by a 3-2 board vote last year that sparked the initiative drive.
The initiative, which would require that all future county jails be built in Santa Ana, qualified for the ballot in August after a yearlong petition effort that cost more than $100,000. More than 112,000 signatures were collected.
County Counsel Adrian Kuyper, in a letter dated Monday, told the supervisors that the initiative is too broad and could improperly restrict the supervisors from providing a basic county service.
“The fundamental question is whether the people can so restrict the government that a vital function, inherent in our system of government, cannot be exercised,” Kuyper wrote.
Under state law, once an initiative qualifies for the ballot, the supervisors generally are bound either to put the measure on the next countywide ballot--which is in June, 1990--or adopt it as an ordinance. But Kuyper’s letter suggests that the board could ignore those requirements and let the proponents of the initiative seek a judge’s ruling on its validity.
“I believe that there are such serious questions as to its validity, and such serious implications for the future (of) county government, that it is legally proper not to place it on the ballot until a court of final jurisdiction mandates the action,” the letter said.
Kuyper said he does not believe the county would be penalized even if it lost in court. And if the supervisors put the measure on the ballot, he said, legal questions could go unresolved for more than a year, stifling all of the county’s plans for new jails.
“The board is spending money to locate jails (outside Santa Ana), and that could be money wasted,” Kuyper said Monday. “On the other hand, if they held off on spending money, it could be two years of planning that would be delayed.”
Rick Violett, chairman of Taxpayers for a Centralized Jail, the group that sponsored the initiative, said the measure was written by attorneys.
‘Every Initiative Challenged’
“We wouldn’t be trying to qualify something if we didn’t think it was valid,” he said. “Proposition 13 got challenged; slow growth was challenged; every initiative that comes along is challenged.
“With a 3-2 board the way it sits now, I would expect challenges. But with 112,000 signatures, I think they would be remiss not to listen to what the people say.”
Orange County has had a serious jail overcrowding problem for more than 10 years. At one point, the supervisors were held in contempt of court by a federal judge for not responding to the problem. In recent years, however, the board has voted to build two new jails. Earlier this year, another new jail facility was opened, and a branch jail is being expanded.
None of the supervisors had read the county counsel’s opinion on Monday. It is scheduled to be considered by the supervisors at their meeting next Tuesday.
Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez, who supported the initiative and whose district includes the Gypsum Canyon jail site, declined to comment Monday because he had not seen Kuyper’s letter. Supervisors Don R. Roth and Harriett M. Wieder were out of the state.
Supervisor Thomas F. Riley, a supporter of the Gypsum Canyon jail, said he glanced at the letter and gave it to his staff to review. He said the issue of jails has been so emotional that he is reluctant to comment until he has thoroughly reviewed the letter.
“It would seem to me that our responsibility is to sort out what the county counsel has done so we don’t cause more concern by speculating,” Riley said.
Long Wait Called Ludicrous
Supervisor Roger R. Stanton, who represents Santa Ana and has opposed the initiative, said he wasn’t surprised that the measure might be invalid because he also considers it too sweeping.
“I don’t think it’s responsible to just do nothing for a year and a half,” he said. “That’s ludicrous. I think good sense will prevail among a majority of the board members and we will follow the wise counsel of Adrian Kuyper.”
After the initiative qualified for the ballot in August, Santa Ana city officials launched a campaign of their own for an initiative that would prohibit future jails from being built in incorporated cities. If both measures were to pass, Kuyper said, the county conceivably could be prohibited from building any new jails.
Santa Ana Mayor Dan Young said he had not been officially notified of Kuyper’s letter but added: “I am absolutely delighted with this. I thought it was a bad piece of policy to begin with.”
But because the issue likely will wind up in court, Young said, he plans to continue collecting signatures for the Santa Ana measure.