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Estimate on Jail Expansion Soars to $325 Million

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles County supervisors, already hard-pressed to find money for mental health and other services, received more grim financial news Tuesday as estimated costs of a long-planned expansion of the downtown Central Jail soared to $325 million.

The revised price tag for the jail expansion project--$23 million more than last year’s estimate--was blamed largely on newly imposed state requirements that county officials said forced them to revamp their original plans.

But board members, still scraping for additional dollars to rescue a collapsing mental health system and other beleaguered county programs, expressed fears that paying the county’s $81.3-million share of the jail expansion costs could jeopardize other county services.

Edelman Expresses Concern

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“If it’s going to mean taking away general fund money, I’d be very concerned about that because of the limited amount of money we have to fund other county departments,” said Board Chairman Ed Edelman, who also voiced reservations about the effects that such an expansion would have on the surrounding community.

“That’s more than $80 million out of our general fund, which means much less for fire, sheriff and other programs,” Supervisor Deane Dana said. “But we just have to do it.”

The jail expansion, which still awaits a public hearing and final approval, is intended to ease severe overcrowding in the downtown jail, where inmates have been freed early to comply with a federal judge’s order to limit the number of inmates in the old facility.

The expansion plan, which has been in the works since 1983, was initially approved by the board last June when planning and construction costs were pegged at $302 million.

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The proposed expansion is located on a 9.8-acre site at the southeast corner of Bauchet and Vignes streets in Chinatown. The site, next to the existing facility, currently is being used for county staff parking. The county plans to build two towers that will include 2,112 detention cells. Another 200 acute-care beds as part of a medical facility would be located in a third tower, and a 1,007-car parking structure would also be built.

Separation of Facilities

Jim Abbott, senior deputy director of the county Facilities Management Department, told supervisors that recently approved state legislation forced county officials to separate the medical facilities from the general prisoner population--at an added cost of $15.9 million. He added that construction costs of a central energy plant for the jail also increased original cost estimates by another $7.1 million, money which he said could be recouped in five years.

The project is scheduled to begin construction in June, 1990, and take three years to complete. And although 75% of the funding for the project will come from state bond financing, the county is scrambling for ways to pay for its share.

Chief Administrative Officer Richard B. Dixon said the county is considering long-term bond financing or asking county voters to approve a ballot measure approving the sale of general obligation bonds. However, county voters failed to pass a similar measure last November when a jail bond proposal fell short of the required two-thirds vote.

Abbott said a public hearing on the environmental report is expected within the next month. Critics of the jail expansion have claimed the project threatens neighborhood residents and businesses, but officials contend that community safety will not be jeopardized.


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