L.A. County Inmate Overflow Project Survives Change On Adelanto Council

ADELANTO—(December 11)  The Adelanto City Council this week stayed the course and gave a key second approval to LCS Holdings’ plan to construct a 3,264-bed detention facility to house Los Angeles County’s overflow inmate population.
That approval came on a 4-1 vote, the same margin the project was favored with on a vote taken by the council on November 20. Two votes of approval, known as a first and second reading, were required to confirm project approval by the city. Since November 20, the council’s make-up has changed substantially. Councilmen Charles Valvo and Steve Baisden, along with mayor Cari Thomas, were unsuccessful in their reelection bids on November 4. Thus, the council meeting of November 19, which lasted into the wee hours of November 20, was the last official exercise of their elected authority before they left office this month. All three, along with councilman Ed Camargo, voted to approve the project. This Wednesday, December 10, Charley Glasper and John Woodard were sworn in to replace Valvo and Baisden, while Rich Kerr replaced Thomas.
There was some degree of drama when the item pertaining to the LCS Holdings project came before the council, since the possibility that two or even three of the newcomers might register votes opposite to their predecessors’ votes existed, whereby the project would ultimately have been denied approval. The drama and tension mounted as the council chambers was filled to near capacity, mostly with residents and others opposed to the project, and 21 of the 24 people who addressed the council on the topic spoke out in opposition to it.
Ultimately, however, Glaspar, Woodard and Kerr voted in favor of the project, as did Camargo. Councilman Jermaine Wright, as on November 20, was the lone dissenting vote against the project.
Wednesday night’s confirming vote in favor of LCS Holdings’ proposal puts the city of Adelanto squarely behind the project, representing an important but not final 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 asked Los Angeles County for no capital contributions toward the project, but wanted 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.
Johns and Crants sought to wed the needs of Los Angeles County to those of Adelanto, which is San Bernardino County’s sixth smallest city population-wise at 31,765 residents and is teetering on the precipice of bankruptcy. 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. With little in the way of sales tax revenue-generating commercial development, the city is in need of some kind of significant cash infusion. Adelanto does have land that can be used for a prison and it is already host to two large detention facilities and has another federal prison at its border with Victorville.
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.
Nevertheless, the concept of another prison in Adelanto garnered significant opposition. A group calling itself Defund Detention has been very active in opposing Johns and Crants. Its members maintain 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 anti-prison activist, Sarai Herrera, said that detention facilities are “inhumane” and that the city has grown to be part of a “Prison Industrial Complex.”
At Wednesday night’s meeting, a group of project opponents held a prominent banner which read:  “No more cages. Build strong communities.”
Another of those involved in Defend Detention, Victoria Mena, maintains that California residents on general principle are opposed to the construction of more jails. She asserts that California residents, in passing Proposition 47, which reduced 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.
Indeed, in its reaction to Mena, the city narrowly avoided creating a  cause célèbre that could have undone all of the progress Johns and Crants had made with regard to their proposal.
On August 16, Mena orchestrated a Defund Detention protest she dubbed “Schools Not Jails.” Initially, she intended to concentrate the activity at Adelanto City Hall. The city insisted that for her and her group to do so, they would need to first obtain a $1 million insurance policy. Refused the permit to protest, Defund Detention retreated to a vacant lot across the street from City Hall. Mena was cited by city officials there and charged with criminal violations. She had been scheduled for arraignment on three misdemeanor charges earlier in the day on December 10, the same date the city council was scheduled to vote on the project.
The American Civil Liberties Union leapt into the breach, alleging the city had violated Mena’s Constitutional rights, and threatened to sue the city. ACLU lawyers armed themselves with an admission from Adelanto City Manager Jim Hart that the city had acted to prevent Defund Detention and Mena from getting the demonstration permit through the inflated insurance coverage ruse because he had made a determination that the protest was contrary to City Hall’s interests.
The ACLU dashed off a letter to the city, demanding that the charges against Mena be dropped, while alleging officials had overstepped their legal authority. “It appears that city officials may have acted out of disagreement with the protesters’ message, and sought to use [their] permitting scheme to silence them,” the ACLU letter charged.
With the prospect of even wider scrutiny over the city’s action mounting as media outlets were picking up on the story of the prosecution of Mena, the city on December 9 in an ex parte motion moved to have all of the charges against her dropped “in the interest of justice.”
That move may have attenuated the protest, already substantial, that manifested on the evening of December 10 in the council chambers. Had the city council been served with a lawsuit on Mena’s behalf that evening, the three new council members may well have been dissuaded from supporting the project.
As it was, opposition to the project was reaching a crescendo. The Victorville City Council on December 9 declared  it was “fundamentally opposed” to incarcerating Los Angeles County inmates near the Adelanto-Victorville border and in a letter signed by newly-elevated Victorville Mayor Gloria Garcia, requested that the Adelanto City Council table its vote on the project until a discussion on the matter could take place.
“The need for jobs is abundantly clear, however, we are concerned with other undesirable elements and the stigma the high concentration of correctional facilities could have on the region’s ability to attract new industry,” the letter stated.
Simultaneously, town officials in Apple Valley and city officials in Hesperia expressed concern about the project.
The out-of-town meddling in Adeanto’s affairs, however, may have backfired.
Glaspar, who was newly sworn in to the council Wednesday night, but had previously served on the council, including a term as mayor, put it somewhat indelicately. “You can take your letter and shove it,” Glasper said in reference to Garcia’s missive. “I don’t need them telling us what we should be doing.”
The rest of the council, sans Wright, dug in their heels and approved the project.
Johns told the Sentinel that he appreciated the wide range of input regarding the project as well as the outcome. “We are, frankly, very pleased with the questions raised by the public and the questions raised by the council,” he said. “I think they came away satisfied that this will create a significant income stream for the community. And 5,000 jobs will be very good for Adelanto.”
Johns said the project is not out of the woods yet and he and Crants yet have to get the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to buy into it.
‘It will be a different kind of conversation in Los Angeles County,” Johns said. “They told us that they would not take it up before Adelanto weighed in on this and we would have to be where we have the project located and we have permits and we have to be fully ready to build. That’s what we have done. They did not want to hear about what we would like to do. They wanted to know about what we had ready to go. Now, we are ready to go and we will be reaching out to the [i.e., Los Angeles] county on an ongoing basis. We will have discussions with the board of supervisors. We would like to get started right away, but realistically, with the holidays, we probably won’t be taking this to them formally until January.”

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