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Court Halts County Land Purchase for State Prison

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The California Supreme Court barred state officials Wednesday from acquiring county-owned land in Lancaster for a proposed prison until the justices decide whether to hear an appeal by the county on the acquisition issue.

The order came just one day after the county asked the high court to block the acquisition of the 252-acre site in west Lancaster pending resolution of lawsuits challenging the state’s environmental review of the site.

A Superior Court hearing is scheduled for Sept. 24 on those suits, in which the city of Lancaster and the county argue that the proposed prison will harm the local infrastructure and economy and deprive the county of land needed for expanded services.

The county had appealed a lower court ruling permitting the state to acquire the land through eminent domain powers and begin prison construction during the environmental litigation.

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The Supreme Court’s ruling Wednesday, which blocked that lower court decision, does not guarantee that the high court will hear the full appeal.

But Deputy County Counsel Jonathan Crane said he was encouraged by the speedy response.

The justices apparently “thought the issue was serious and imminent enough to grant an immediate stay while they thought about it,” Crane said.

A short statement signed by Chief Justice Malcolm M. Lucas on Wednesday imposed a stay on an order permitting acquisition “pending final disposition of the petition for review” by the Supreme Court, Crane said.

If the Supreme Court decides to hear the case and the stay remains in effect, Crane said, the result could be to further delay the state from taking over the site.

That could benefit the county and the city if the Superior Court in September requires further environmental studies or mitigation measures by the state, he said.

The county has argued that proceeding with construction during litigation could make such environmental rulings meaningless.

With the case awaiting a hearing by the Supreme Court, “the state would have to have all their ducks in a row before they get the bulldozers out there,” Crane said.

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Deputy Atty. Gen. Chuck Shoemaker, who is representing the state in the environmental suit, said he could not comment on the Supreme Court ruling because he has not seen it.


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