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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Fight Against Re-Entry Facility Continues For Madison

For Davis and much of the county, last week was the pinnacle of the fight against the re-entry facility. For those who want to once again go to the NIMBY-issue, here is your fodder. I still believe there are logical and rational reasons for opposing projects of this sort, even when they are near your backyard.

What I do not think is logical and reasonable are all the charges and conspiracy theories that are floating around.

One of the arguments I hear time and time again is that people are afraid to have the re-entry facility in their community because they fear the inmates will be released there.

Now again, if we are talking about legitimate fears, there are some. This will be a low security facility, I hope the county will work with the state to improve upon the security of the facility because that is a legitimate issue. However, what is not a legitimate issue is that prisoners will be released at the location of the facility. That is neither the intent of the law, AB 900, nor is it the intention of the county.

Indeed, the MOU between the county and state takes care of this issue--if there are any questions. In fact, the CDCR is responsible for ensuring that "all inmates released to parole from the Yolo SCRF will have coordinated transportation from the Yolo SCRF to their approved placement in the community based on the inmate’s reentry plan."

As Supervisor Rexroad put it:
"My main concerns about release points is taken care of. Unless someone lives in Madison everyone will be transported to where they live. That was key to me. "
However, as I mentioned the security arrangement could use improvement:
"On a case by case basis, CDCR is willing to provide a boundary fence, as defined in CDCR’s design guidelines at the request of the County. Such fence shall be constructed so as not to unnecessarily restrict visitors, service providers and other non-CDCR personnel from entering the premises to conduct necessary business in connection with the operation of the SCRF. The design of the Secure Reentry Facility Prototype utilizes a secure building envelope that creates a secure perimeter. As a result, no additional security fencing is required or incorporated into the base prototype design."
Finally, the MOU does not address another key fear by local communities on this issue and that is that the building not be transferred to other usages should the program no longer exist.

The termination clause reads as follows:
"This MOU shall automatically terminate without notice after seven years from this MOU’s effective date if the Yolo SCRF is not sited and operating."
But it contains no provision for the building. So it is indeed conceivable from this MOU, that the building could move into new usage. The county should insist on a clauses that transfers the building back to their control if this program and current usage ever ceases.

There is a provision in the siting agreement that would enable the County to terminate it "if the County does not receive a conditional award of state bond funds for construction of a jail facility... and has exhausted or has waived, all administrative appeal procedures..."

In other words, the county will not get stuck with this facility unless they are ensured of getting their $30 million for the prison.

For me those two concerns are legitimate concerns with the MOU and the project.

Many have suggested that this building has to be in an urban area. I am far from convinced on that point. The location of Woodland would actually be a bit better in terms of transportation. But Madison is not a horrendous location. It would be problematic for those coming from West Sacramento, but workable from Woodland and convenient from Solano County which will apparently have a good chunk of the inmates.

The release issue, as mentioned above, is a non-issue. The final point is one of services and infrastructure. Apparently that is going to have to occur anyway. The county clearly intends to expand the size of Madison to begin with. The state is responsible for the provision of services and infrastructure. They will be the ones who do the analysis and it will be interesting to see what would occur if they deemed it too costly.

I am generally one that is sympathetic for neighbor-issues with building projects of all sorts. I believe that people have invested huge percentages of their earnings and life-savings into their property. I think people have legitimate concerns about property values and quality of life. I do not begrudge people who do not want a facility of this sort by them as long as they do not in turn want a facility of this sort by someone else.

The notion of NIMBY means "Not in my backyard" but it implies inherently that they are willing to tolerate it elsewhere. By definition, you are not a NIMBY if you oppose it for all. That does not mean you necessarily oppose it for all with equal force. I may not want a biolab anywhere in the country because I fear any number of hazards may occur, but I will also spend far more time opposing it in Davis than I will even think about it in Virginia. That's just a fact of life.

Where I do have a problem is the breakdown of civil discourse, the irresponsible charges, and conspiracies theories that have emerged.

Supervisor Matt Rexroad reports a lot of angry letters and people that have called him up, yelling at him. Sadly some of those folks are from Davis. I understand people's frustrations, but they have to act like adults. It is counterproductive to yell.

As Mr. Rexroad put it on his blog:
"Over the past couple weeks I have noticed that when people start yelling at me about facts I can't control --- I just mentally turn them off. At that point they just need to yell so I let them go. Reason and rational thought just aren't going to do anything for them."
Then there are threats. For example:
"When you make your decision regarding the re-entry today, do so knowing that God has special places for those who make the wrong choices in life. Knowing all you know about this so called "re-entry", how you can knowingly let down the very people that elected you for the almighty dollar is truely beyond me."
Race Card and Brown Act Accusations

An attorney has written a letter to the Board of Supervisors on residents' behalf. Some citizens are considering filing a lawsuit to stop the facility. Unfortunately the letter from the attorney seems counterproductive at best.

The race card has been played. The letter charged that the "proposed site is discriminatory to the poor and Hispanic community."
"The county recognizes Madison as an economically disadvantaged area. It is home to a large migrant labor camp of almost exclusive Hispanic residents. Is Madison being selected as the proposed site because it lacks a significant affluent white population? Additionally, one author has noted that racism among white staff in rural prisons is pervasive."
I see. Of course Woodland and West Sacramento have sizable Hispanic populations as well. That would leave only Davis as a possible site. Of course, then Davis could claim it is being discriminated against because it is the only predominantly white community. I am being facetious here, but this argument does not hold much water.

Then there are charges of Brown Act violations.

As Matt Rexroad put it:
"The point about the Brown Act does not even contain any evidence -- it just states that the Board of Supervisors broke the law."
Not only do these charges not contain evidence, they do not even contain a description of how the law was violated.

The letter simply states:
"The Conduct of the Hearing on the Potential Sites for this Prison Reentry Facility at the Board of Supervisors Meeting on September 9, 2008 Violated the Brown Act."
Okay, can you now please explain what they did in violation of the Brown Act. You can state it all you want, but if you are going to file a legitimate complaint with either the District Attorney's Office or the Attorney General's Office, you need to have a description of what was in violation of the Brown Act.

These types of tactics are actually counterproductive--they tend to make public officials dig their heels in rather than listen to legitimate concerns--and I think there are some legitimate concerns that need to be addressed. They need to be addressed through reasoned discourse not threats and unfounded charges.

If you do not believe that the site will work--make an argument as to why that is the case, not a threat. I have seen no evidence that the Board violated the Brown Act on this. I do see some issues that need to be resolved. I hope the Board works to revise and strengthen the MOU if they decide to go ahead with the project. And I hope the Madison community at the very least works with them to improve the arrangement.

I understand that the people of Madison do not want this facility and "do not want to be known as a prison town." That I can sympathize with, but they need more than just threats and charges to make that case to the Board.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting