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Canyon Jail Designated as Measure J Priority : Referendum: The supervisors’ action is the first time that the issue has officially been linked to the strongly protested site near Anaheim Hills.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After almost an hour of heated debate, the Board of Supervisors voted 3 to 2 Tuesday to designate the proposed Gypsum Canyon jail as the No. 1 funding priority if voters approve Measure J, the half-cent sales tax issue on the May 14 ballot.

The supervisors’ vote marks the first time that Measure J has officially been linked to the controversial Gypsum Canyon site near Anaheim Hills, where residents have registered strong opposition to the proposed jail.

Now the political debate over the jail moves from the supervisors to the Orange County Regional Justice Commission, the independent body that voted to put Measure J on the ballot. The commission will have to adopt a master plan to detail what justice facilities, such as the jail in Gypsum Canyon, will be built with revenues from the half-cent sales tax, if it is approved by voters.

The three board members who supported Tuesday’s action--Supervisors Harriett M. Wieder, Roger R. Stanton and Thomas F. Riley--said that officials have already spent too many years discussing and studying a solution to the mounting problem of jail overcrowding and that it is time to make some decisions.

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They also said that there is too much voter confusion about what exactly an extra half-cent sales tax is going to buy.

“I think we should stop playing games,” said Wieder, who also chairs the justice facilities commission. “We’re not kidding anyone with Measure J. The initiative is on the ballot, and the most significant thing about it is that it will provide money for another justice facility.”

Supervisor Don R. Roth and Board Chairman Gaddi H. Vasquez cast the dissenting votes, maintaining their past opposition to building a jail in Gypsum Canyon.

Roth said it was premature to be designating projects to be built with Measure J funds before voters had a chance to cast their ballots. Vasquez complained that the supervisors have yet to hear from other county agencies that may also want to submit proposals to the justice facilities commission.

Sheriff Brad Gates, who sought the vote on the issue, reminded the board that because of severe overcrowding in county jail facilities, 850 arrestees or convicted criminals are being released each week, either right after they are booked, or before their entire sentence is served.

“If you don’t approve this now, we’re looking at another 10 to 15 years of delay in finding another jail site,” Gates said.

The most heated exchanges came between Roth and Gates. Roth accused the sheriff of misleading voters when he said that the measure would raise $340 million a year.

Gates said he was basing his estimates on financial projections drawn up for Measure M, the half-cent sales tax for transportation, which voters approved last November. Early projections for Measure M indicated that a 30-year tax, assuming an inflation rate of 5% a year, would raise $10.3 billion in 30 years--or an average of $343 million a year.

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Roth, however, maintained that the figure was still not enough to build and operate a jail in Gypsum Canyon, let alone to acquire the land that is currently owned by the Irvine Co.

“I think this is a terrible mistake to be bringing this to the board at this time,” he said.

Gates countered: “I think after 12 years, it’s time to build a jail and stop talking about it.”

Wieder reminded her colleagues that the board had already, in two previous votes, affirmed Gypsum Canyon as its preferred jail site. It was time to act, she said.

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“The law requires and people demand that you put people who break the law in jail, but we don’t have enough room in our jails right now,” she said. “People keep saying to me, ‘When are you going to stop making all these studies about where to put a new jail? When are you going to make up your minds?’ We don’t have a choice anymore.”


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