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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

County Goes with Madison Site and Eliminates Davis and Esparto

Before all of this began it seemed the word I had gotten from several points was that the Madison site was the best of the three sites picked by the County Board of Supervisors. It is not that the Madison site is perfect, in fact there will have to be improvements made to that site as well particularly with regards to waste water, power, and gas line issues. However, Madison appeared to have the least problems of the three sites.

For all of the talk of NIMBYISM it is plain old land use policies that saved the residents of Plainfield from having a Prison Re-Entry Facility in their backyard. Their research efforts were exactly correct with regards to the issues of that site.

I figured this was a done deal around the time Supervisor Helen Thomson pressed the representative from CDCR about the infrastructure and how CDCR evaluates the process.

According to the representative CDCR does its own site assessment, it determines the costs of what needs to be done which includes the feasibility of the location given the budget that they have. Some sites could be ruled out because they are too costly to build on. And that is really what it came down to for the airport site. Sure they could deal with issues of flooding, roads, electricity, and water. Sure they could figure out how to deal with the issue of emergency service when the firefighter from West Plainfield indicated how taxing it would be to have a facility of this size on their property.

But at the end of the day, these issues all had to be resolved which meant more money would be needed. And the representative made it clear to all that if the CDCR chose the site and if they were going to be the only one building on that site, then they were going to have to pay the entire bill.

Right then I knew that the airport site was out. Of course it took hours of discussions and public comment for the decisions to be made.

Some very general comments that I think are important to make. First, I understand people's frustration about these issues and the way they arose seemingly at the last minute. But there were a number of people at this meeting that were downright rude and made unfounded accusations. Supervisor Rexroad posted a few of the more rude and threatening comments on his blog. A number of those people were from the actual city of Davis. That kind of conduct does not reflect well on this city. We all have strong views and strong concerns, but frankly that is counterproductive. I know when I get rude posts on the blog or rude comments in emails to me, it completely discounts the point that the individual is trying to make.

Second, I agree with many about concerns about the process. Richard Livingston made these comments well during public comment yesterday. I think Supervisor Mike McGowan handled it well. He initially interrupted Mr. Livingston, but then apologized for doing so. He acknowledged that there were concerns about the process and communication and I think handled it pretty well.

That leads me to my next point, Supervisor Duane Chamberlain. I respect this man on a number of fronts. He is one of the most passionate protectors of farmland and county open space there is. However, he did not serve his constituents well yesterday. First, he had to recuse himself because he farms land around the airport. He did this very reluctantly and unnecessarily, in my opinion, pushed this issue to the brink of legality with his refusal to step aside.

Several of his constituents complained that their representative was not involved in the process. They felt disenfranchised. I do not blame them. But frankly I think it is his own fault. He could have handled this situation much better and perhaps should have given up working on that land in order to be a more effective spokesperson for his constituents on such an important issue. The county is still apparently dealing with legality with regards to these matters, but he did eventually turn over the gavel to his colleague Mr. McGowan.

Supervisor Mike McGowan who represents West Sacramento had no real stake in this battle, which made him the perfect Supervisor to chair the meeting. I thought he did an outstanding job. He was a calming influence during a turbulent meeting. He was able to really diffuse tensions rather than ratchet them up. I thought he was outstanding.

In fact, I was impressed as a whole with the Board of Supervisors I thought they asked a number of very good questions. They really pressed CDCR on points about retaining control of this process. I think there is a legitimate concern that this could morph into something else.

There are still discussions to have in fact on these points. One of the key provisions is the future use of the re-entry facility. Can this be converted into a prison down the line and what recourse does the county have to prevent that from occurring? I already mentioned the development agreement mitigations that are needed included waste water management, power, and gas lines issues. Finally, the question of how many people might be served by this facility and which people.

From the CDCR's perspective this has to be 500 people. Five hundred (500) people means it serves people from outside of Yolo County.

Serious questions arose about the type of people who would be housed by such a facility. For instance, according to CDCR level four offenders could be housed there. Of course, they would have to meet specific criteria such as not being problematic inmates, eligibility for parole, and other criteria, but they could under those conditions wind up there. CDCR did however say that this was not meant to serve mentally ill prisoner populations.

Supervisor Helen Thomson was concerned that there not be sexual predators or pedophiles housed at this facility but CDCR could make no such promises.

A common refrain from the public was that the county sold out the public for $30 million. Many in the public questioned the usefulness of such a facility. Some called it basically an experiment.

I am supportive of the concept of the re-entry facility. I think that the current system has failed us. We have basically created a prisoner factory that turns inmates into career criminals. And I think we need to look for ways to avoid that.

Yet the more I think about it I have to agree with Davis City Councilmember Sue Greenwald's comments. First, having rehabilitation in the last year of a prison term probably does not make the most sense. If we want rehabilitation, why not work on it throughout the term?

Second, as others have suggested, this is basically a tool by which to relieve overcrowding. Instead of releasing prisoners directly to the population, they prop up those releases with a year of training. Do not get me wrong, training is important and the ideals here are good, but at the end of the day, this is indeed an experiment. We do not know that this will work. And yet somehow the state has been convinced to put billions into this project under the guise of rehabilitation--a guise that amounts to largely untested assumptions.

Third, many of the people who are supporting these re-entry facilities are opposed to Proposition 5 and efforts of that sort. This is where we can make a huge difference in the prison system. Not everyone who breaks the law needs to be thrown in prison. It is not clear that doing so helps make us safer as a society, nor is it clear that it helps those people thrown in prison become better people.

What is clear is that we are locking up a lot people who are not especially dangerous to the population in jail. It's clear that the system from the courts to the jail cells are clogged with these cases, and we would probably have plenty of room in the system if we just dealt with these kinds of cases differently.

In other words, during the course of listening to the testimony from the public, questions from the County Board of Supervisors, and answers from CDCR, I changed my mind on this issue. I think there is a real concern that once we sign this over, we lose control and an amorphous state agency gets its hands on a facility in our county. At the end of the day, I don't think $30 million is worth handing over control to the state. More to the point, I question using further resources to back up what I see as a broken corrections system.

Madison is indeed the least bad location of the three selected by the county here, but the people of Madison have in a way been sold out for expediency and for $30 million. I hope in a few years we do not look back on this and regret it.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting