COUNTYWIDE : Jail Rental Proposal Losing Some Steam

Orange County officials will travel to San Diego this week to discuss a new proposal for renting a San Diego County jail on the Mexican border, but the idea seems to hold less promise than just days ago.

One of the biggest potential obstacles: the number of jail beds Orange County could rent.

In interviews after the idea first surfaced two weeks ago, San Diego County officials left open for discussion the amount of space that Orange County might be able to use at San Diego's East Mesa facility. The jail was completed last October at a cost of $79.6 million, but San Diego County doesn't have the money to open or operate it.

Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates says he wants "all 1,500 beds" at the jail.

However, Jonathan A. Wolin, a senior manager in the Orange County administrative office, said Monday that San Diego County officials are only interested in renting 200 to 300 beds.

"That definitely puts a different twist" on the proposal, he said. "It's a whole different ballgame. . . .

"With the smaller number of inmates, it probably wouldn't be worthwhile" for Orange County to rent part of the jail, he said, unless the county could find a "specialized group" of local inmates to bus to San Diego at a reasonable cost. He declined to elaborate on which inmates that might include.

But preliminary discussions have produced a glimmer of good news on the proposal, first put forth by Supervisor Don R. Roth earlier this month in discussions with a San Diego County supervisor.

San Diego officials initially said the facility would cost about $78 per bed--the figure they had quoted last year to federal officials in failed talks over renting the jail. But Wolin said it now appears that the actual cost may be more like $50 to $60 per bed.

Wolin will be going to San Diego on Thursday with Lawrence (Bud) Grossman, a county consultant on jail issues, to visit the East Mesa jail and speak with local officials. "We'll see if (the proposal) has any viability," Wolin said.

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