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question everything Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Mar-19-09 12:11 PM
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San Quentin Seen as a Hot Property
MARCH 18, 2009

San Quentin Seen as a Hot Property
California Lawmakers Hope Prison by the Bay Would Fetch as Much as $2 Billion

SAN QUENTIN, Calif. -- Even amid the real-estate bust, waterfront property in the San Francisco Bay area is a luxury few can afford. That's why some California lawmakers want to sell San Quentin State Prison -- which houses more than 5,300 inmates on prime land with stunning views of the bay -- to developers who might pay as much as $2 billion. State Sen. Jeff Denham, who has sponsored a bill to sell the complex of historic buildings for private development, thinks the proceeds could help replenish California's recession-depleted coffers... First, he and other lawmakers who agree with him would have to block Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to spend $356 million as early as May to expand San Quentin's famous death row, a previously approved project meant to alleviate overcrowding.

California's deep recession has rekindled a debate over the use of San Quentin, a 432-acre peninsula on the edge of the tony town of Larkspur in Marin County. The debate also highlights long-running questions about the viability of the state's capital-punishment system, in which nearly 650 male death-row inmates are more likely to die of natural causes than by execution as they wait for appeals. In 2003, California lawmakers approved $220 million to build a new death row at San Quentin. But after an audit placed the cost at nearly $360 million, prison managers asked the state Legislature for more money. Mr. Schwarzenegger last year allocated an additional $136 million.


What most everyone agrees on is that San Quentin is one of California's costliest and most decrepit prisons. Built in 1852, it houses the state's male death-row inmates and its only gas chamber. The complex includes about 200 buildings, the oldest dating from the 1850s, including nearly 90 homes for employees. It also features an exercise yard from which inmates can survey the rolling hills across the bay and inhale a salty breeze. Last year, operating San Quentin cost about $260 million. The state has paid heavily for seismic upgrades, lead-paint cleanup and updating plumbing that until the 1980s used seawater for inmate toilets.

California chose the peninsula for its remoteness and the security provided by the water, hills and marshland. But over the years, homes and shops have filled land nearby. Windsurfers flash over the waves just offshore, and on warm days sunbathers recline on the beach just yards away from the prison's walls. In 1971, Gov. Ronald Reagan promised to "take the first step toward closing San Quentin" so it could be turned over for development. In 1981, the Legislature's criminal-justice committee proposed selling it and using the proceeds to help fight crime. And a 2004 report concluded that selling San Quentin would help address "fundamental regional issues such as transportation and housing."

Resistance from other counties and inmate advocates has stymied efforts, but the recession could make a difference. Mr. Denham's bill estimates San Quentin's value at $2 billion. He and Mr. Huffman draw on a 2003 study, sponsored by Marin County, that found it would be an ideal location for a ferry terminal connecting Marin to San Francisco and other parts of the Bay and imagined a waterfront village with luxury condos and single-family homes.

(snip) (subscription)

Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A3

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GoesTo11 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Mar-19-09 12:13 PM
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1. San Quentin, I hate every inch of you
How about making it a park?
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tularetom Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Mar-19-09 12:19 PM
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2. I have a better idea - decriminalize marijuana possession
And release all the prisoners convicted of possession which will free up half the space in existing CA prisons. Then abolish the death penalty and build a new prison for all the assholes somewhere in the middle of the Mojave desert. Then close and bulldoze San Quentin and convert it to parkland open space.
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Auggie Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Mar-19-09 12:21 PM
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3. Wouldn't California have to build another prison then?
If San Quentin is costing more in upkeep than than it's worth then perhaps it's time to replace it.
But I despise the idea of turning it over to the wealthy in the form of an elite housing development. The land belongs to everyone.
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question everything Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Mar-19-09 12:40 PM
Response to Reply #3
4. Sure, inland, where land is cheaper
You cannot escape development, especially when California is drowning in red ink. A combination of park, open beach and resort would be nice.
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sharp_stick Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Mar-19-09 01:11 PM
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5. That would be one haunted ass site
Hell, I think I'd rather build on an Indian graveyard than on San Quentin land. No matter how nice the view.
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