Adelanto Council Gives Tentative Approval To 4th & 5th Prison Projects

(November 20)  ADELANTO — The Adelanto City Council gave approval to two separate prison building proposals in this cash-strapped city during a marathon meeting that began on November 19 and lasted until the wee hours of November 20.
The council chambers were packed to capacity as the city council, three of whose members were voted out of office on November 4 and were thus attending their last full council meeting in their elected capacity, considered a proposal by Geo Group Inc. to establish a privately-run prison to hold 1,050 inmates from the California Department of Corrections and a separate proposal by LCS Holdings, LLC to construct a 3,254-bed detention facility to hold overflow Los Angeles County jail inmates.
Adelanto is host to three existing detention facilities: The Adelanto Detention Facility, a 1,950 capacity prison owned and operated by Geo Group; the High Desert Detention Facility, a 2,098-bed facility operated by the San Bernardino County Sheriff, which was converted from a smaller private prison formerly run by the Moreland Family Trust and Maranatha Prison Systems; and the federal correctional complex located on the Adelanto-Victorville border.
The council twice voted, the first time by a 3-2 margin with Wright and councilman Steve Baisden in opposition and the second time by a 4-1 margin with councilman Jermaine Wright dissenting, to approve the development agreements to construct both the Geo Group  and the LCS Holdings projects.
The question now is whether those votes will hold up for a required second vote of the council, which is to come after the three new members of the council are sworn in.
On December 10, Mayor Cari Thomas is to be replaced by Rich Kerr and incumbent councilmen Baisden and Charles Valvo are to be displaced by Charley Glasper, a former councilman, and John Woodard.
During the election and immediately thereafter, Kerr gave indication he was opposed to the LCS Holdings proposal. He has since softened in that regard, indicating he will entertain arguments that the project would provide economic benefit to the community.
LCS’s proposal had been endorsed by the planning commission prior to the council vote this week. The planning commission, however, had rejected the Geo Group proposal.
Because the planning commission’s approval of the LCS project rendered it the one most likely to garner approval at the council level, over the last two weeks it had become the focus of a not insubstantial protest against the construction of more prison facilities in general and in Adelanto in particular. A group calling itself Defund Detention has been very active in the last fortnight, seeking to convince Adelanto city officials that  constructing more detention facilities in a city that already has three is not in the city’s long term interest, no matter what economic benefits might be derived from hosting such facilities. In addition to arguing that the proliferation of prisons in Adelanto is harming the city’s image, Defund Detention asserts that public sentiment and rehabilitative theory is moving away from incarceration as a cure for social ills. One of those involved in Defend Detention, Victoria Mena, maintains that California residents on general principle are opposed to the construction of more jails and are against the proliferation of privately-run detention facilities. Adelanto residents want no more jails, prisons or detention facilities built in their community, she insisted.  She asserts that California residents, in passing Proposition 47, which is aimed at reducing property and drug crimes from a felony to a misdemeanor status in order to reduce jail crowding, have initiated a trend against detention facility construction. Warehousing large numbers of criminals in the community will compromise public safety, Mena asserts.
Another anti-prison activist, Sarai Herrera, said that detention facilities are little more than “cages” for human beings and that the city has grown to be part of a “Prison Industrial Complex.”
The vote in favor of the Geo Group project, overriding the planning commission and staff recommendation against it, came after Geo CEO George Foley made his appeal to the council while a cadre of current Geo employees dressed in khaki prison guard uniforms and company executives were present to support him. “We are trying to bring economic benefits to this city,” Zoley said. “We bought your former empty facility for $28 million, and I think those proceeds have been used over the last several years to this community’s benefit.” Zoley called the proposal for a second facility to be owned and operated by his company “a continuation” of the previously established relationship between Geo and Adelanto.
Wright and Baisden sought to delay a vote on the proposal until next month, but the remainder of the council chose to vote on the project immediately.
The vote in favor of LCS Holdings’ proposal represented an important element needed to bring the Los Angeles County inmate overflow holding facility project to fruition.
In May, the two principals behind LCS, Newport Beach-based developer Buck Johns and Corrections Corporation of America Founder Doctor Crants of Nashville, Tennessee, presented the plan to alleviate crowding in Los Angeles County’s detention facilities to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Johns and Crants told the board the project would save Los Angeles County $674 million in capital costs and could be in place to receive inmates in two years. Johns and Crants are asking Los Angeles County for no capital contributions toward the project, but want a commitment from the county that it will house its overflow inmates there for 20 years at a cost of $88 per inmate per day, or roughly $104 million per year.
Los Angeles County, the largest county population-wise in California, has been hit particularly hard by the mandates in Assembly Bill 109, legislation aimed at closing California’s so-called “revolving door” of low-level inmates cycling in and out of state prisons. Assembly Bill 109 was drafted in an effort to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court order to reduce the number of inmates in the state’s 33 prisons to 137.5 percent of original design capacity. The law sent inmates deemed low risk – those who were convicted of non-violent offenses – back to the county where they were convicted for incarceration.
Adelanto, which is San Bernardino County’s sixth smallest city population-wise at 31,765 residents, is teetering on the precipice of bankruptcy, with little in the way of sales tax revenue-generating commercial development. Last year the city council declared the city was in a state of fiscal emergency, but its residents have refused to consent to impose on themselves a tax that city officials say is needed to stave off bankruptcy.
Johns and Crants are proposing that the $332 million cost of constructing the jail, which is to be located on 160 acres on Adelanto’s eastern boundary, be defrayed with bonds issued by a public finance authority or other agency. The city of Adelanto would own it. Once operating, Johns and Crants say, it would generate enough revenue to debt service the bonds and would provide the city with water and sewer connection fees of  $11,317,482, development impact fees of $3,713,750, public schools impact fees of $215,220, and engineering department fees of $91,046. In addition, Johns and Crants maintain the project would involve off-site infrastructure installation expenditures of $5,734,000 that would be of tremendous future benefit to the city and would create an estimated 3,769 construction jobs and an estimated 1.250 permanent jobs once the facility is in place.
But Johns and Crants had faced something of a Catch-22 that held up progress toward the closing of a deal to get the project under way during the summer. The city of Adelanto wanted Los Angeles County to make a two decade-long commitment to housing its inmates at the facility before proceeding. Los Angeles County wanted Adelanto to commit to building, owning and running the jail before it gave its commitment.
Johns and Crants made a major stride in their effort when the Adelanto Planning Commission on November 4 endorsed the project and gave its recommendation to the city council that it approve the development agreement.  The council furthered their progress toward the goal with its November 19 vote.
“We are very pleased with the vote and are looking forward to address the new council,” Johns told the Sentinel on November 20. “We are hopeful of doing spectacular things in the High Desert and especially in Adelanto. We are most appreciative of the efforts put in by city staff and the council members. We are delighted with the 4-1 vote so we can now move the project forward.”
Despite the council’s endorsement, Johns said the project is not a done deal yet. “We need a second vote with the new council,” Johns said. “We need to confirm last night’s vote because there is a zone change that is part of the project. Zone changes require two votes. We are scheduled to come back before the council on December 10. At that point, there will have been a change of three of the members of the council. We have high hopes the incoming council members will reflect the wishes of the current council and agree that our project represents a positive impact on the economic development and the creation of job opportunities in the city of Adelanto.”

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