The state auditor is questioning construction of a new death row at San Quentin State Prison, saying Department of Corrections' cost estimates for construction and operation are too low. Although State Auditor Elaine Howle did not recommend a different location for the project, many people expect her to do just that in an upcoming report.
For years, government officials and civic leaders in Marin County have been urging the state to build the new death row elsewhere. People in Marin County would like to see the 156-year-old San Quentin closed eventually, and the site converted into a multi-modal transit hub and other uses (see CP&DR Public Development, April 2005). Last year, Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill that would have delayed construction until Corrections investigated alternative sites, something that Howle recommended in 2004.
In June, Howle estimated the 768-cell project could cost $395 million to construct, up from Corrections' initial estimate of $220 million, and add $1.2 billion to staffing expenses during the first 20 years of operation. And, unless the state double-cells condemned inmates — a practice that is not recommended — the facility would be full by 2014.
The State Water Resources Control Board has proposed an overhaul of how it and the regional water quality control boards carry out many basic regulatory functions. The detailed proposal contains 17 changes that state lawmakers would have to make, and nine administrative changes that the state and regional boards could implement on their own.
Among the legislative changes recommended:
• Ease conflict-of-interest rules so that more experienced candidates would be eligible to serve on regional boards.
• Make regional board chairs full-time, paid positions.
• Create a formal, public process by which the regional board chairs may coordinate efforts and reduce regional inconsistencies.
• Streamline the process for adopting total maximum daily loads (TMDLs), a measure of how much of a certain pollutant a water body can tolerate.
• Streamline enforcement procedures.
• Allow regional board executive officers to make some decisions now requiring regional board action.
Among the administrative changes recommended:
• Standardize the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit process so that it is consistent and permits are enforceable.
• Improve data management systems and make water quality information available on-line.
• Move forward with a new Bay Delta cross functional team of state and regional board staff members to develop and implement water rights and water quality actions.
• Upgrade enforcement efforts and spill notification requirements.
The state board plan appears to be a response to State Senate President Don Perata, whose bill to reduce regional board membership and change board member qualifications was vetoed last year. Perata has a similar bill this year (SB 1176), but it appears to be going nowhere. Criticism of regional boards by "the regulated community" has increased during recent years.
Information on the "Water Quality Improvement Initiative" is available on the state board's website, www.waterboards.ca.gov.
The developer of the proposed Las Lomas project on the edge of the Santa Clarita Valley has sued the City of Los Angeles for $100 million because the city stopped processing the development applications. In a suit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, developer Dan Palmer argues that the city halted the process for arbitrary and discriminatory reasons.
The Los Angeles City Council in March voted 10-5 to stop processing the application for 5,500 housing units and 2 million square feet of office space on 555 acres at Interstate 5 and Highway 14. Councilmembers said the project would add too much traffic to the already congested interstate.
The company that owns Newhall Land and Farming Company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in June. Newhall officials insisted their company — which has developed much of the Santa Clarita Valley and is behind the proposed 21,000-unit Newhall Ranch project — was not going out of business. The parent company, LandSource Communities Development LLC, characterized the bankruptcy filing as only a means of restructuring debt.