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Friday, September 05, 2008

Packed House in Plainfield Airs Its Concerns About Re-Entry Facility

A large crowd that likely approached 200 people packed into Lillard Hall at the Yolo County Airport to ask questions about the new proposed Re-Entry facility. Last week, the Yolo County Airport was named as one of three possible sites for the facility.

The meeting was well-attended especially considering it was put together in just two days. Three members of the County Board of Supervisors were in attendance--subcommittee members Helen Thomson (Davis) and Matt Rexroad (Woodland) were there in official capacities. Supervisor Duane Chamberlain represents this location, he was also in attendance and briefly spoke to the large crowd. However, he is conflicted out from formal capacities.

This is a point of controversy. While he does not own the adjacent land, he farms it on a contract basis. There is considerable question as to whether he can discuss any aspects of the Re-Entry policy given his interest in this particular location. This is a point that he is going back and forth on with County Counsel.

He did briefly speak and state in no uncertain terms, he found the site completely inappropriate for this use.

Also in attendance were three members of the Davis City Council--Mayor Ruth Asmundson, Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor, and Councilmember Lamar Heystek. More on this in just a bit.

The presentation was not orderly as intended. People were very concerned about this project and proposed location and often spoke out of turn and gave speeches rather than asking questions. However, it was nothing compared with the situation in Esparto.

From my perspective, the organizers did considerable research on the zoning ordinance, the deed, and understanding the issues with the site itself. They made a very compelling case that this site is not appropriate. Some can be dismissed perhaps as NIMBYISM, but I think to do so is to miss a good deal of very compelling arguments.

This is certainly not an inclusive list, but I will talk about some of the ones I think are critical.

First and foremost, the road infrastructure. Flat out, I do not think the county roads are suitable for the increased volume of traffic that a prison with visitors would entail. There are already safety concerns about the roads, they are narrow, they have farm equipment, and there are frequent accidents with fatalities.

Along with that concern is the distance from major highways and arterials. The closest highway is 113 in Davis. So people would have to drive from 113 approximately 8 miles out to the airport through Covell. On the other hand, the location at Madison is directly off of I-505 making it a far better location from the standpoint of traffic.

Moreover, at present there is no public transportation. Prisoners who would be released would either have to have a family member pick them up at the facility or they would be driven by CDCR personnel to the Greyhound Station in Davis. In addition, non-driving family members would have difficulty getting to the facility--and that is a crucial aspect of the program to re-orient prisoners with their families.

There is concern about lack of emergency services. The Plainfield Fire Station is actually next door. It is composed of two volunteer firefighters. In an emergency situation, they would be severely taxed to respond. That means that the Davis Fire Department would be the logical next option for major emergencies as the county lacks a fire department. The public at this meeting suspect that this facility would make a fourth Davis fire station inevitable.

Along similar lines the ambulance service comes from Davis as well and contains two vehicles. Problems at the prison facility would tax the EMR system as well.

Flooding is a big problem in the rural locations. There is apparently a slough on the backside of the airport, near where the facility would be, that floods every winter. In addition, multiple times each winter, the roads out there become impassable due to flooding. They also mentioned this is on a 100 year flood plain which would have its own dangers.

Power is problematic. Currently there is not enough power from the Plainfield substation to supply all of the power needs. This would need to be upgraded. The residents suggested that five times a year or so they lose power for extended periods of time.

The organizers also suggested that the deed to the property and the zoning are incompatible with these uses. This is somewhat in question as Supervisor Matt Rexroad suggested that recently the county has in the new general plan re-zoned this land industrial. The organizers believe that it is zoned for aviation and therefore only aviation related uses are permitted. They also made an extensive case the prison use for a portion of this land would be incompatible with the airport functions of the site.

For his part, Supervisor Matt Rexroad agrees with the concern about roads. He told the Vanguard:
"I think the road issues is the biggest one in this area. The flooding issue, power issue, and a couple others that were mentioned tonight can be solved and improved for others with this project."
The public was also concerned that the water hook up and power upgrade would be growth inducing, making leapfrog development more likely. In addition, does bringing in 300 employees, many potentially from outside the area mean an increased housing demand.

Supervisor Rexroad disagrees however:
"It is not growth inducing."
He then suggested to the Vanguard that much of these issues would not have come up had the Board of Supervisors proposed an airport expansion project rather than a prison project.

The City of Davis is not happy apparently about the process or the proposal. Councilmember Lamar Heystek told me that the city received absolutely no notice from the county about this proposal. While the location is outside of the pass-through agreement (by a very small margin), it is inside the Davis planning area.

Supervisor Matt Rexroad however disagrees that Davis should have been notified, arguing that this is a location several miles outside of town and they should have no input or authority whatsoever about the project.

However, the project clearly impacts Davis in a number of ways including services and roads. Unfortunately this appears to be standard operating procedure from the county in terms of notification to the city. The city was similarly angry with the county for failure to communicate on the county's general plan proposal that included areas within Davis' planning area that were covered by the pass-through agreement.

The public was angry as well that they seemed to get no notification for this proposal. They found out last Thursday in the newspaper.

From my perspective this is not an acceptable way to do business by the county. I saw the same issues arise in this case that arose during the general plan. The reaction by the Supervisors was somewhat defensive last night. I strongly disagree with Supervisor Rexroad on this issue.

For all of my problems and complaints with the city of Davis on a variety of topics, one thing they do is have community meetings with neighbors of proposed development sites well in advance of the actual issue. Frankly having a press release and news articles a week and a half prior to a meeting is irresponsible.

The city of Davis once again finds itself at odds with the county on development issues.

While I remain supportive of the basic concept of the re-entry facility, the process of this is increasingly concerning me. The prison expansion project for the county has already been approved by the board of supervisors and will cost $42 million for a new pod on the current facility. By allowing a re-entry facility, the county can directly recoup $30 million of that. So a huge vested financial interest by the county is driving the re-entry facility project.

While I think it is a worth-while project, I am not certain I am pleased with how the county is choosing to do business. As the CDCR spokesperson pointed out last night, in order for a project to be approved, the local jurisdiction needs to consent to the project. In the case of cities, that jurisdiction is the city council. In the case of rural areas, the Board of Superivors is the authorizing body.

The problem with this arrangement is that in the case of a city, all five members of the council represent the city as a whole. Whereas in the county, there is only one representative that represents that particular area.

Nevertheless, the cues I am getting seem to be pointing away from this location as desirable place. There is a threat of a lawsuit. The lawsuit may or may not succeed, but it would certainly delay implementation of the facility. That is probably enough to make this location less than desirable to CDCR. Factor in the roads in this location compared to Madison, and I think Madison is much more likely to end up the eventual location than the Airport.

Much of this will be determined next week at the Board of Supervisor's meeting on Tuesday. It is clear that many of these people will pack into the chambers in order to make their voices heard.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting