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MEDIA COVERAGE: L.A. TIMES - SACRAMENTO BEE - FRESNO BEE LOS ANGELES TIMES Tuesday, June 12, 2001 Judge Halts Kern County Prison Project Environment: The state is ordered to reconsider the impact of the $335-million, maximum-security facility in Delano. By GEOFFREY MOHAN, Times Staff Writer A Kern County judge has abruptly halted a $335-million prison project in Delano, ruling that the state Department of Corrections must reconsider the potential environmental impact. The decision, issued last week by Kern County Superior Court Judge Roger Randall, requires the state to reopen issues ranging from water use to effects on the financially strapped city's infrastructure. Delano officials, who have lobbied for the 5,160-bed, maximum-security project, were disappointed. "I've got a 30% unemployment rate, so I'm losing out on jobs, from the construction of the facility to permanent jobs when it's done," said Mayor Art Armendares, who works at a nearby prison in Wasco. Armendares said the existing North Kern Prison, a processing center for inmates that is several miles west of the town's center, has provided about 250 jobs in Delano. A recent test to determine eligibility for office assistant jobs at the proposed facility drew about 1,000 applicants, he said. Opponents Say Prison Unnecessary Opponents, who have tagged the project a "social and environmental disaster," say they will use the court-ordered hiatus to bolster their contention that a fourth prison in the region will take more than it gives to the city of 38,800. They note that the prison will require already scarce water, andthat any population growth will further crowd Delano's schools and roads. More generally, opponents say inmate population growth is slowing, undermining the rationale for new facilities. "We think this is an opportunity for the people of Delano, Kern County and the state as a whole to reconsider the need to spend $335 million on a 5,000-bed prison," said Craig Gilmore, a spokesman for the California Prison Moratorium Project, one of several anti-prison and environmental groups that sued to halt the project. Such opponents of the state's two-decade campaign to build more prisons say the Corrections Department scaled back its forecast for population growth this year by 18,000 inmates. Recent measures such as Proposition 36, which softens imprisonment requirements for drug offenders, is expected to stem inmate population growth even further, experts on both sides of the issue agree. Nonetheless, the state has difficulties housing violent felons, said corrections spokeswoman Margot Bach. "We're already overcrowded as is, and to put more violent inmates in closer proximity with other violent inmates will only create more violence," Bach said. Anti-prison activists question that assertion, noting that Department of Corrections master plans seem to indicate the system can handle 20,000 more high-security inmates without running out of room by 2003. Exactly what issues the state will have to reconsider, and how extensive the process will be, remain ambiguous. Neither side had seen the text of the judge's decision Monday. Among the strictly environmental issues are ground water and waste water, both of which are touchy political issues in the San Joaquin Valley. The Southern San Joaquin Municipal Utility District, which manages irrigation water in the Delano area, was incensed to find that until several months ago, it was not included in notifications about the state's environmental impact study. "We were never included in any of their correspondence, any of their environmental impact process," said district General Manager William Carlisle. Utility District Could Lose Thousands The utility district stands to lose $29,000 in fees levied on the 640 agricultural acres the state would use for the facility, forcing it to try to spread the cost of its water and infrastructure among fewer users on less acreage, Carlisle said. "We don't like to see agricultural land taken out of production, particularly not for the first, or second, or third, but the fourth prison," Carlisle said. "We also don't like to see the job losses [in agriculture]. I don't care what they say about it, but you don't take an agricultural worker and make him a prison worker." Though the city went on record as favoring the facility, Armendares and others worry about the state's decision not to help fund an expansion of Delano's overtaxed waste-water treatment facility, deciding instead to build its own. Armendares said the city hopes to reopen negotiations on its treatment plant, which will prove to be a more difficult financial prospect without the state as client and partner. Copyright © 2001 Los Angeles Times SACRAMENTO BEE Kern County judge temporarily stops new prison project BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (AP) -- A Kern County judge blocked construction of a second prison in Delano and ordered state
prison officials to do more environmental study on the project. A pair of anti-prison groups and the Friends of the Kangaroo Rat organization filed a lawsuit last year to halt the $335 million prison, which would house 5,160 inmates. In April, lawyers for both sides argued before Superior Court Judge Roger Randall, with opponents attacking the prison on numerous environmental grounds. In his ruling Thursday, the judge removed both anti-prison groups from the lawsuit, saying Critical Resistance and the National Lawyer's Guild Prison Law Project have no standing because they are based outside of Kern County. He also dismissed all but one of the environmental complaints -- that the California Department of Corrections did not look at the cumulative problems the prison might bring to the surrounding environment. Randall ordered the state to prepare an analysis that looks at past, present and future projects and how they -- in conjunction with the new prison -- might damage the environment. State prison officials said they would postpone any construction contracts until the lawsuit is resolved. Construction of the prison was originally slated to begin in May of this year. Activists close to the case said the ruling brings mixed emotions. Ruth Wilson Gilmore, a university professor and critic of the state prison system, said she was disappointed that the bulk of the lawsuit was thrown out and that both anti-prison groups had been removed from the case. Still, she said opponents were pleased that work had been postponed on the project. She also praised Randall's call for more information on possible environmental damage. The new Delano prison would be built alongside North Kern State Prison, which was built in 1993. FRESNO BEE State still pushes Delano prison plan By Kerri Ginis The Fresno Bee (Published June 12, 2001) DELANO -- The California Department of Corrections will continue with plans to build a maximum-security prison here despite a recent ruling by a Kern County judge requiring further environmental studies before construction can begin. The ruling, issued Friday by Judge Roger Randall, came almost a year aftera coalition of anti-prison activists and environmentalists filed a lawsuit trying to stop construction of the prison. "We're not going to drop this because of a legal setback," Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Heimerich said. "The courts aren't telling us not to build the prison. The court has said they need another environmental impact report." The ruling requires additional studies on the environmental impact the prison will have on past, present and future projects in the area. Environmentalists say the prison will only hurt the agricultural land and harm endangered species, like the kangaroo rat. "It will put increased burdens on infrastructure, like wastewater treatment plants and traffic," said Brent Newell of the Delano Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment. The CDC already completed an environmental review of the project, but the judge said it was not sufficient. The CDC must decide if it wants to conduct another environmental study or appeal the ruling. "We're going to take a look at the ruling and see what our options might be," Heimerich said. ''Our legal people are still poring through it." Construction on the $335 million maximum-security prison was slated for May, but the lawsuit delayed the groundbreaking. The prison is expected to have more than 5,000 beds and will house some of the state's most violent offenders. It will be adjacent to another state prison in Delano, the North Kern State Prison, which houses medium security inmates. Anti-prison activists said the state doesn't need anymore prisons because the inmate population is declining. The most recent prison population projections show 18,000 fewer inmates than forecasts made late last year, said Craig Gilmore, spokesman for the California Prison Moratorium Project, an Oakland-based organization against the construction of prisons. "The state doesn't need anymore prisons," he said. "We need to stop locking people up who have social problems." Heimerich acknowledges that the prison population is declining, but said the number of violent offenders is increasing. The 33 other state institutions are not equipped to deal with the growing violent offender population, he said. Only 14 state prisons have the proper cells and electrical fencing to handle the nearly 9,000 violent inmates. "We're starting to see the most violent inmates incarcerated increasingly more, and for a longer period of time," Heimerich said. Once its built, the Delano prison is expected to create about 1,500 jobs in the area. About 300 of those will go to local residents. Delano Mayor Art Armendariz said the city, which suffers from 30% unemployment, needs those jobs. "As a city, we're doing a better job training our people," he said. "We just can't turn down opportunities like that." Others said those prison jobs won't help the majority of the city's residents, who are farmworkers. "The majority of our members don't feel there's a need for a new prison," said Sarah Sharpe, a community organizer with the United Farm Workers in Delano. "We already have a prison, and it hasn't helped the community's unemployment rate." The reporter can be reached at email@example.com or 622-2417. Critical Resistance 1212 Broadway, Suite 1400 Oakland, CA 94612 Phone: (510)444-0484 Fax: (510)444-2177 firstname.lastname@example.org criticalresistance.org