The Orange County Grand Jury added its voice Monday to the clamor over jail overcrowding, suggesting that Anaheim be prevented from annexing a site in Gypsum Canyon until county supervisors finish debating whether to build a jail there.
And in a related development, officials said Monday that they hope to hire prison expert Lawrence Grossman--who has long monitored the county jails on behalf of a federal judge--as a special county consultant. If approved by the Board of Supervisors next week, Grossman would advise the county on plans for a new jail and how to manage the facilities it already has.
Both the proposal to appoint Grossman and the grand jury letter landed in the midst of a growing jail-related fury at the county Hall of Administration. Supervisors will consider several jail issues at their Dec. 18 meeting: They are expected to reaffirm their support for Gypsum Canyon, and to authorize the county staff to negotiate with the Irvine Co. on a price for the property.
Executives with the company, which owns 2,500 acres in the canyon, have agreed to talk but say they have no intention of selling.
While the county considers that site, Anaheim has moved to annex it, an action that would take it out of the county’s reach and clear the way for construction of homes on the land. That prospect worries grand jurors, who wrote to Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez, in his capacity as chairman of the Local Agency Formation Commission, and urged that LAFCO delay the annexation.
“The jurors are not saying that Gypsum Canyon is necessarily the place to build a jail,” grand jury foreman Grant Baldwin said in an interview. “But they are very concerned about the problem of jail overcrowding, and they’re concerned that an option not be removed.”
The letter, copies of which were sent to all the supervisors, touched off a flurry of interest by both sides, with supporters of the Gypsum Canyon jail cheering it and opponents dismissing it as irrelevant.
Anaheim Mayor Fred Hunter, a leading Gypsum Canyon jail opponent, noted that the city does not currently have an annexation proposal before LAFCO, which oversees such boundary issues.
“I don’t think that the grand jury letter has much significance,” Hunter said. “It’s really premature.”
But while Gypsum Canyon opponents downplayed the significance of the letter, Supervisor Roger R. Stanton said it would add to the chorus of voices joining the jail debate and could help advance the Gypsum Canyon plan.
“It’s a very significant sign that people are concerned, including very credible groups such as the grand jury,” said Stanton, who supports the jail proposal. “If I were still on LAFCO, I certainly would be moved by the interest of the grand jury in this matter.”
At about the same time that they received the grand jury letter, supervisors were also hearing of a county staff proposal to hire Grossman. But where the grand jury suggestion prompted some debate, the Grossman appointment won only praise.
“I have a great deal of respect for Bud Grossman and the work he’s done for the court,” Vasquez said.
Grossman is a retired regional director of the federal prison system and once oversaw federal prisons in 14 western states. He has also worked as a warden in several federal prisons, and for the past several years has served as the special master of the Orange County jails.
Grossman recently completed an inspection of the county jail system and strongly urged the supervisors to build a new jail in Gypsum Canyon. Citing what he called a “crisis” in jail overcrowding, Grossman wrote:
“Time is money, and time is safety for the public. The authorities should begin at once to negotiate to acquire the Gypsum Canyon site.”
Despite his outspoken support for the controversial site, Grossman is still widely respected by officials on both sides of the jail debate. And officials agreed that he could add valuable insights as the county wrestles with the ever-growing problem.
Grossman said he would gladly accept a job as a consultant to the county and said he would focus first on efforts to downscale the proposed Gypsum Canyon jail and make it more affordable.
“I think I could help on that,” he said. “I think that’s a major task, but it can be done.”