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LOCAL ELECTIONS BALLOT MEASURES : Proposal to Put All Orange County Jails in Santa Ana Blasted

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A ballot measure requiring that all future Orange County jails be located in Santa Ana is shaping up as one of the nastier local political battles in the June 5 election.

Measure A--the Centralized Jail Initiative--was placed before Orange County voters by homeowners in Yorba Linda and Anaheim Hills. It grew out of their opposition to a jail planned in a canyon area near the two communities.

While communities throughout Southern California battle to keep jails at a comfortable distance, the Orange County initiative has served to underscore ethnic and economic differences between densely populated, predominantly Latino Santa Ana and the more affluent hillside communities near the planned Gypsum Canyon jail.

Opponents of Measure A have not hesitated to brand it as racist. The proposal’s sponsors vehemently deny that charge.

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Said Santa Ana Mayor Dan H. Young, “I have been in politics for almost 15 years, and I don’t think that I have ever seen a proposition go to the ballot that is more bigoted, more biased, more wrongheaded than Measure A.”

Young said the proposed legislation is a ploy to dump future jails in Santa Ana, whose quarter-million residents--many of whom cannot or do not vote--will be outnumbered at the polls by wealthier cities to the north and south.

“I don’t think there’s any coincidence that they picked Santa Ana,” Young said. “They thought they could get away with it politically.”

Rick Violett, head of Taxpayers for a Centralized Jail, the homeowners group that placed the measure on the ballot, dismissed the racism charges and said the issue is one of fiscal responsibility.

He said the measure’s foes “are the ones that appear to want to play up the racist point. I’ve never said anything like that, and I don’t believe anyone has ever said that on behalf of the group.”

A new county jail, Violett said, should be built at the Civic Center in Santa Ana because that is the county seat and government center. Three of the county’s five jail facilities are in Santa Ana--the Central Men’s and Women’s jails and the Intake/Release Center, which opened about two years ago. A smaller branch jail slated for expansion is in nearby Orange, and the James A. Musick Honor Farm is near Irvine.

“That’s what the Civic Center is all about,” Violett said. “That’s where the courts are. . . . You expect to have those kinds of things when you move next to an urban center.”

Measure A opponents, however, point out that the county has already spent $7 million on the jail site near Anaheim Hills and Yorba Linda, which was chosen by the Orange County Board of Supervisors in a divisive battle three years ago. If Measure A is approved, the opponents say, it will be fought in court and further delay the construction of a new jail.

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All parties agree that additional jail space is desperately needed. While county officials continue to search for a solution, the Sheriff’s Department releases more and more criminals who serve either shortened sentences or no sentences at all: 32,000 in 1987, 42,000 in 1988, and more than 50,000 last year, according to department figures.

The average daily jail population is about 4,400, and cannot rise higher without new facilities because of a decade-old federal court order against overcrowding, said Assistant Sheriff John (Rocky) Hewitt, administrator of the central jail complex. About 7,500 inmate beds will be needed by 1995, while the projection for the year 2000 is 9,000, he said.

“I need a jail somewhere,” Hewitt said. “I don’t care where it’s at, but I desperately need it now.”

Orange County Supervisor Roger R. Stanton, who opposes Measure A, warned that the proposal’s language would preclude the possibility of building a regional jail in the Riverside County desert, an option now under study by both counties.

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Violett disputed that assertion. A memo from County Counsel Adrian Kuyper said that while the measure probably would prevent Orange County from building its jail outside the county, it may not have that effect on a project involving more than one jurisdiction.

Young said the “No on A” campaign has donations or pledges of about $25,000, including $4,000 from his own political war chest.

Santa Ana school board member Rob Richardson, who is also a Stanton aide, said the committee will have to raise at least $35,000 to $40,000 to win over voters from outside Santa Ana.

“It’s real tough to do that,” he said. “We’re saying, ‘Let’s do what is right, and let’s place conscience above policy.’ ”

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