Los Angeles County will appeal a court ruling this week upholding the state's plans to build a 2,200-bed prison in Lancaster, a county lawyer said Wednesday, but state officials said work at the site will begin in about a month anyway.
The county plans to challenge Monday's finding by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Edward M. Ross that the state prepared an adequate environmental impact report on the $250-million project, said Helen Parker, senior deputy county counsel.
But the appeal might not be filed for weeks, Parker acknowledged. In the meantime, state officials said they plan to proceed with opening bids next Thursday on a projected $4.9-million contract to grade the 252-acre site. Actual work could begin by late October or early November, they said.
"There's nothing to prevent them from doing that. But they would proceed at their own risk," Parker said. She added that state funds spent on construction now could be wasted if the prison's opponents win the continuing legal battle and end the project.
Monday's ruling was the latest in a series of seesaw court decisions in lawsuits filed in January by the county and the city of Lancaster against the prison. The challenge to the prison's environmental report is considered by both sides as the opponents' best weapon to halt the project.
Despite Monday's setback, Parker said, the county plans to argue to a Court of Appeal that the state's environmental report is severely deficient. The Lancaster City Council is scheduled to meet Monday to consider whether the city will join in that appeal.
Specifically, Parker said she plans to argue that the state's required analysis of possible alternate sites for the prison is obsolete. She also said the report is silent on the combined environmental impacts of the prison and the county's own development plans in the area. Deputy Atty. Gen. Charles Shoemaker argued that the environmental review of the project has satisfied state law.
The Lancaster prison is part of a 1987 "pain-for-pain" compromise worked out in the Legislature that also calls for construction of a new state prison in East Los Angeles. The city of Los Angeles has a similar lawsuit pending against that project.
Meanwhile, the county and Lancaster have a court hearing scheduled Nov. 14 on another claim in their lawsuit. They contend that the prison legislation, involving two sites and separate appropriations, violates the state Constitution's requirement that laws be limited to a single subject.