SANTA ANA – The Orange County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved plans to expand the James A. Musick Facility jail by more than 500 beds.
The unanimous vote came after the supervisors heard Lake Forest Mayor Kathryn McCullough and Councilman Peter Herzog speak in favor of the expansion and Irvine Mayor Pro Tem Beth Krom oppose it. The jail sits on unincorporated land abutting both cities.
The jail is a hodgepodge of modular, portable and permanent buildings as well as tent-like structures with about 1,300 beds.
Expansion of the facility, which was once an “honor farm” where inmates tended chicken coops, has been fought over since 1996, when the board authorized its expansion to as many as 7,854 beds housing maximum-security inmates in addition to the minimum- and medium-security ones there now. Irvine and Lake Forest sued shortly after that approval of a master plan and final environmental impact report. Two years later, a judge ruled for the cities, tossing out the plans. In 2000, an appellate court reversed the ruling, reinstating the 1996 plans.
The county Sheriff’s Department, which runs the jails, continued to negotiate with the cities. The department signed an agreement with Lake Forest last month, promising among other things not to house maximum-security inmates at Musick, in exchange for the city’s promise not to file another lawsuit.
Irvine however, is not on board. City Manager Sean Joyce wrote to the supervisors Monday asking for a delay in their vote, enclosing 92 pages detailing the city’s concerns. Jack Golden of the County Counsel’s Office denounced Joyce’s letter as “a late hit.”
Krom told the board she objects to the expansion because it is “mainly to generate revenue from ICE and other detainees.” She was referring to an agreement under which U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement pays the Sheriff’s Department to house people awaiting deportation proceedings.
In an interview, Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said Krom’s assertion “couldn’t be further from the truth” and the expansion is needed to cope with a rising population of home-grown offenders.
In the past decade, the county’s jail population dwindled at times, diminishing pressure for the expansion. Starting in 2008, the Sheriff’s Department closed the Women’s Jail in Santa Ana and portions of the Men’s Central Jail and Musick.
Last year, however, the state began sending more prison inmates back to the counties under a process called realignment. That led the department to reopen all its jail facilities, said Cmdr. Steve Kea.
On Thursday, the five county jails housed 6,480 inmates, not too far below their capacity of a little over 7,000, Kea said. Tuesday’s population included 813 ICE detainees, near the maximum of 838 allowed under the department’s contract with ICE, Kea said.
The plans approved Tuesday call for dormitory-like buildings housing 512 beds, financed through $100 million in state-issued bonds. The plans still require state approval. The target date for occupancy is 2019.
The board’s approval also removes a requirement that Musick host agricultural resources. Chicken farming was discontinued several years ago after a change in state law made it cheaper to buy eggs, Kea said.
By ANDREW GALVIN/ THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
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