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Gates, Capizzi Sign Ballot Argument for Measure J : Jail construction: The document, which will be submitted today, claims the half-cent sales tax would raise $343 million annually for a Gypsum Canyon facility.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Supporters of Measure J will submit a ballot argument today contending that the proposed half-cent sales tax for jails--if approved by county voters May 14--would raise $343 million annually for a controversial 6,700-bed facility in Gypsum Canyon.

The argument, to be submitted to the registrar of voters, is signed by several prominent law enforcement officials, including Sheriff Brad Gates and Dist. Atty. Michael J. Capizzi, as well as a representative of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

The one-page document bluntly tells county residents that their safety is at risk as a result of jail overcrowding.

“A drug dealer in Seal Beach--a drunk driver in Garden Grove--a burglar in Newport Beach--a drive-by shooting suspect in La Habra--a credit-card thief in San Clemente. Because of overcrowding in our jails . . . these criminals got out of jail early!” the argument says.

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The deadline for submitting arguments for and against the measure--which does not mention any specific jail site--is 5 p.m. Opponents of the Gypsum Canyon site, mostly residents of Anaheim Hills and Yorba Linda, said that in spite of what the pro argument states, there is no hard evidence yet to show that the measure can raise that much money.

“Their campaign of distortion and disinformation has already begun,” said Rick Violett, a Yorba Linda resident who opposes the Gypsum Canyon site, which a divided Board of Supervisors has long endorsed 3-2. “To me, this is real huff and puff.”

Anaheim Mayor Fred Hunter, who could not be reached for comment Thursday, said Sunday that he would be one of the authors of the ballot argument against the measure and that he was trying to organize opposition among other North County mayors.

Violett and other opponents have maintained that the site is too close to homes and schools and that it is not “remote,” as the argument in favor states.

“There is a school site right near the mouth of that canyon,” he said.

Capizzi said he agreed to lend his name to the campaign in favor of the tax because the county has spent too much time already arguing about a solution to jail overcrowding as the problem worsened every year.

“We are in desperate need of a jail in this county, and the lack of a jail is hindering our ability to use law enforcement as a deterrent to crime,” the prosecutor said, adding, “If we’re going to see a jail in my lifetime, it’s going to have to be in Gypsum Canyon.”

In an interview Thursday, Gates said he believes the cross-section of community members and government officials signing the argument in favor will help bolster the measure’s prospects. Other signers include Rick Reece, chairman of the Orange County Gang Investigators’ Assn., and Costa Mesa Police Chief David L. Snowden.

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The argument wastes no time injecting a fear of crime into the tax debate, noting that “after release, many prisoners commit more crimes that would have been prevented if they were in jail.

“Persons most vulnerable to crime--such as women, children and senior citizens--are placed at even greater risk,” the statement reads.

Older voters are considered a key constituency in the upcoming election because they tend to vote in greater numbers than do younger voters.

Most striking about the ballot argument is its specific reference to Gypsum Canyon, a controversial site east of Anaheim. Some observers had argued that it would be politically wise to leave the site off the ballot argument in order to soften opposition to the tax among Anaheim and Yorba Linda voters.

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Others, however, maintained that listing the site would help the measure’s chances by reassuring voters in other parts of the county that the tax is not intended to pay for a jail in their neighborhoods.

“I’m not the one who picked the site. The Board (of Supervisors) did,” Gates said. “But we have a site now, and I want the people to clearly understand that Gypsum Canyon is where the jail will go.”

The Orange County Regional Justice Facilities Commission, which approved the ballot measure, has not specified that Gypsum Canyon would be funded through the tax.

By law, the commission must solicit proposals from the county and each of its 29 cities on how the sales-tax revenue should be used. Then the commission will review the requests before adopting its own master plan detailing what facilities will be built and funded with the money. The master plan, however, does not have to be completed before the election.

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In two separate votes, a majority of supervisors have already endorsed the Gypsum Canyon site, and the commission members are expected to also approve it.

Although neither side of the sales-tax debate has yet mounted its campaign, Gates said Thursday that he expects proponents to raise and spend $400,000 to $500,000.

Violett said that his side has not determined how much money can be raised to defeat the measure but that he is confident that voters will see through Gates’ high-priced campaign.

“Our side is the grass-roots citizens’ effort,” he said. “Sometimes common sense wins out.”

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