Adelanto To Consider Jail For Holding L.A. County Inmates

(November 13)  A development agreement for a 3,264-bed prison that will handle the overflow inmate population in Los Angeles County’s jails will come before the Adelanto City Council for a vote on November 19.
Orange County developer Buck Johns and Corrections Corporation of America Founder Doctor Crants of Nashville, Tennessee in May 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.
The project proposal is the marriage of two needs on either side of the Los Angeles/San Bernardino County line.
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 also one of its most cash-strapped municipalities, with little in the way of sales tax revenue-generating commercial development. Last year the city council declared it 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 next to the existing federal correctional facility in Victorville, 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 $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.
Thus, Johns and Crants have touted the project as one that will not require the city to put up any funding toward the project, nor require that it put its credit on the line for the project to be completed.
There was 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 turned a corner on resolving that stalemate 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 is now set to consider it on November 19.
While the council’s approval appears likely, a new challenge to the project has emerged in the form of opposition by activist Victoria Mena, a former Adelanto resident and current public administration graduate student at the University of Washington. Mena, in conjunction with a group calling itself Defund Detention, maintains that California residents in general are opposed to the construction of more jails and are against the proliferation of privately-run detention facilities and that Adelanto residents want no more jails, prisons or detention facilities built in their community, which already is host to the county sheriff’s department’s High Desert Detention Center. She asserts that California residents, in passing Proposition 47, which is aimed at reducing property and drug crimes from a felony to a misdemeanor in order to reduce jail crowding. have initiated a trend against detention facility construction.
Moreover, Mena has seized upon the consideration that on the very night the planning commission made its recommendation to the city council, three of those council members – Mayor Kari Thomas, councilmen Steve Baisden and Charles Valvo – lost their bids for reelection in this year’s November 4 municipal election and will be leaving office as a consequence in December. She wants the decision on the jail postponed until the three new city council members are seated. She contends the newly composed council will not approve the development proposal.
Mena is working with the Defund Detention group to hold rallies and otherwise lobby the council to hold off on the November 19 vote, which has already been placed on the council agenda by city staff. She maintains the new council will reflect resident sentiment against the jail facility, based in large measure on assertions that warehousing large numbers of criminals in the community will compromise public safety.
Johns this week told the Sentinel that the project as planned will have safeguards built into it to ensure the safety and security of the community. Documentation Johns provided showed that by agreement with Los Angeles County only inmates serving time for “non-violent, non-serious, non-sexual crimes” will be housed in Adelanto and furthermore “no inmate with a prior conviction for a serious or violent crime” will be imprisoned there.
Johns told the Sentinel the planning commission had already looked at the safety issues. “They did not want the Los Angeles County inmates  who will be held there released into San Bernardino County. The agreement covers that. Once their sentence is served and their time is done, they will be put on a bus and taken back to Los Angeles and will be released from the L.A. Men’s Central Jail.  We have satisfied the responsible authorities on that question. We got a unanimous vote of approval from the planning commission.”
Johns said he and Crants have made substantial progress toward getting the project approved but that they are not there yet.  “Los Angeles County is not going to take any substantive action until we get the approval to build,” Johns said.
Johns said he is relatively confident the city council will see the benefit of approving the project.  “By the terms and conditions of approval, this will spin off approximately $1.2 million per year to the city of Adelanto and it will create 5,000 construction and permanent jobs,” he said.
Johns said he is aware of Mena and Defund Detention.
“I know a little about them and what they are saying but I don’t know who they are,” he said. He had not met Mena, Johns said. “I know some of the local people have talked to her. They know who she is. She is said to be an activist and a community organizer.  She needs to make her case with the city council. I am going to make our case. I think we will win because this project will bring the city of Adelanto two of the things it desperately needs, revenue and employment,” Johns said.

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