Gates Vows to Lobby Panel to Free Bill on Tax Election for Jail

Times Staff Writer

Sheriff-Coroner Brad Gates on Thursday vowed to lobby an Assembly committee to win approval for a bill that would allow Orange County to ask voters to consider a half-cent sales tax increase next year for new jail and courthouse facilities.

Gates and other supporters of a new jail at Gypsum Canyon, one of the projects that would be advanced by such a tax, hit a roadblock Wednesday, when the Assembly Local Government Committee decided to combine the county measure, sponsored by state Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach), with three similar bills and take them up as a package after legislators return from their summer break in mid-August.

That would make it more difficult for lawmakers to pass the tax increase before the Sept. 15 adjournment and would lessen chances that the issue could be placed on county ballots in June, 1990, Bergeson said.

A half-cent tax would generate an estimated $121 million a year.

The committee's chairman, Assemblyman Dominic L. Cortese (D-San Jose), said he wanted the delay to examine similar proposals in Los Angeles, Riverside and Humboldt counties to make sure that they would be constitutional if approved by the Assembly.

"I hope Dominic Cortese doesn't play God with the rest of state," Gates said Thursday. "We're going to be working extra hard to get him to change his mind."

But opponents of the jail site, who say building a facility at the canyon would be too costly and disrupt nearby neighborhoods, said the delay is a sign that the measure is not feasible in a county that tends to vote against increased taxes.

Supervisor Don R. Roth, who opposed the Gypsum Canyon site near Anaheim Hills when the Board of Supervisors voted, 3-2, in July, 1987, to build a new jail there, repeated his opposition Thursday and expressed doubt that county voters would approve such a tax anyway.

"I have great doubts that the people will vote for it," said Roth, who represents Anaheim. "I don't think this thing is going anywhere anyway."

Roth Cites Costs

Roth said he opposes the new jail site because of its cost. The first phase would cost $300 million, excluding the price of the land, he said. Buying the site would increase the cost by at least another $30 million--providing that the Irvine Co., which owns much of the land around the site, agrees to sell.

"It's irresponsible to spend millions on a site we don't own," Roth said. "I can't support a jail in Gypsum Canyon because it doesn't make economical sense."

Bergeson's bill is considered by county officials to be the only politically viable option to help solve a jail overcrowding crisis that Gates has estimated will force him to give early release to thousands of prisoners each year.

Gates and the county are under a federal court order to relieve overcrowding in existing jails.

"I need a facility," Gates said Thursday. "I can't do my job."

Residents oppose building a jail at the canyon site and have qualified an initiative for the June, 1990, ballot that would restrict new jail construction to Santa Ana.

No Impact on Values, Study Says

But a recent county report predicted that the proposed 6,720-inmate, maximum-security jail would have no impact on surrounding property values or public safety.

"I would challenge anyone to show me where in the county the property values haven't gone up," Gates said.

County Board of Supervisors Chairman Thomas F. Riley, who supports the site, said he hopes that the bill will be passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor.

"It's not a happy situation, but I still somehow have the faith that this situation in the Assembly committee can be resolved," Riley said.

But Rick Violett, president of the citizens group Taxpayers for a Centralized Jail, said the delay in Sacramento could force county officials to build jails with other counties in areas isolated from residential neighborhoods or to construct one next to county court facilities in Santa Ana.

"If they're going to put it on the ballot, it had better be a decent plan," Violett said.

Berguson to Keep Pushing

Bergeson, returning from the capital Thursday, pledged to continue pushing the bill.

"There's an apparent awareness (on the Assembly panel) that we're unhappy with the decision," she said. "It can't be put on the back burner. . . . That's totally unacceptable."

The senator warned that the bill, which expires if not passed before legislators break, is not specific to the Gypsum Canyon site.

"We want to keep the site neutral," Bergeson said. "The point is, we're releasing hard-core criminals, and that's fast becoming a health and safety crisis."

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