ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : Good Cause, Bad Implications : What if every impasse in local government prompted state intervention?

What if every time a board of supervisors rejected an effort to take property through condemnation the proponents simply turned to Sacramento to get the job done?

These are the disturbing questions raised by the well-intentioned effort of Assemblyman Tom Umberg (D-Garden Grove) to clear the way for the Orange County Board of Supervisors to condemn the Irvine Co.'s property in Gypsum Canyon for a jail.

Umberg's bill, now on Gov. Pete Wilson's desk, would break a deadlock by requiring only a three-vote majority for condemnation of the site.

Under current law, four of five supervisors must approve the taking of private land for public purposes. Both Chairman Gaddi H. Vasquez and Supervisor Don R. Roth oppose the Gypsum Canyon Jail.

Although the Umberg legislation is framed as a one-time-only relaxation of the law, it doesn't take much imagination to see how it could set a dangerous precedent.

Turning to Sacramento every time there's a roadblock would weaken local resolve and initiative. The approach goes against a fundamental reason for having locally elected officials. They are there to make the tough calls and to assume responsibility for them. In this case, the well-known financial problem associated with building the jail would still pose significant obstacles, even if the governor signed the legislation.

But even if the money were there, the issue should be resolved in Orange County and not left to distant legislators.

The recent debate on the bill in the Senate offered a clue to the potential for red herrings.

Orange County got a pretty good bashing by state legislators who accused it of putting neighboring counties at risk by having criminals on the loose because of its jail problem. Who needs that kind of rhetoric in the midst of a frustrating search for solutions?

Orange County does have a serious jail problem. Its inmate population has swelled to 150% of capacity, and it is faced with a federal court order forcing the premature release of 850 prisoners a week.

But Wilson should veto Umberg's bill. It means well and it's for a good cause--but the bill cannot substitute for the resolve of supervisors elected to fight their own battles.

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