Residents, City Council voice concerns about juvenile inmate plan

Attendees stand for the Pledge of Allegiance to start the first in-person City of Santa Clarita City Council meeting on Tuesday since COVID-19 shut down in-person meetings last year. 062221. Dan Watson/The Signal

The JJCC Community Advisory Committee meeting is open to the public and scheduled to begin Thursday, June 24 at 2 p.m. To join the meeting, visit Instructions for making public comment are listed on the first page of the agenda. 

The Santa Clarita City Council received multiple comments from residents Tuesday night about the community impact of a state-appointed committee’s recently announced plan to move violent juvenile offenders to two camps in Saugus. 

“We have a very large number of speakers,” said Mayor Bill Miranda as he was handed a tall stack of comment cards by the city clerk. 

Here are excerpts of what they said: 

Renee Lindsey  

“It was devastating to me to hear that hardened criminals would serve long-term in a community that I adore, across the street from where I live, where my children play, my future grandchildren will be playing,” said Lindsey, a 20-year resident of Saugus, adding the inmates’ visitors will bring more crime to Santa Clarita. 

Lindsey also noted that a new residential development was being built next to Camp Joseph Scott and Camp Kenyon Scudder. The City Council approved Bouquet Canyon Residential, a community of up to 375 two-story homes, in November. City staff said the closest home is 750 feet away from the camps. 

“What are we going to do to maintain the safety of our community, the safety of our children, the safety of our schools, the safety of our property, our home value?” Lindsey said. 

Grace Elliot 

“This decision will negatively impact the safety of all Santa Clarita residents. Housing values will plummet,” said Elliot, who said she lives across the street from the camps. “We do not want to live next door to violent criminals.” 

Elliot said she believes adding juvenile offenders to those sites will worsen traffic conditions on Bouquet Canyon Road. “We already have fires, water shortages, rolling blackouts, traffic issues and more in our area.” 

Karen Whitman 

“We’re talking about putting juvenile offenders, and the most serious of which, in our backyard, without having an opportunity to talk about how this is going to affect our quality of life,” said Whitman, a Saugus resident since 1999. “I want to find out what the city is planning on doing about this plan that was thrust upon us, and if we’re forced to go along with this, what plan we’re going to put in place to protect my children, protect their children, protect our neighborhoods, from what is invariably going to change our community from this point on.” 

Anti-Recidivism Coalition 

Nine members of the Los Angeles-based Anti-Recidivism Coalition testified, including their executive director, Sam Lewis, who lives in Santa Clarita. Several of them told of their own experiences as youth offenders who have since turned their lives around, and advocated the camps as a place for more youth offenders to do the same. 

“These are young people that need an opportunity. These are young people that need to be in a place where they can become whole and heal,” Lewis said. 

Kent Mendoza, an organizer with the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, said the juvenile justice system should help create a society that brings formerly incarcerated youth into economic life. 

“At the end of the day, all of our young people that are incarcerated are going to come home,” he said. “Do you want them to come home worse or do you want them to come home prepared?” 

Attendees listen to speakers during the first in-person City of Santa Clarita City Council meeting on Tuesday since COVID-19 shut down in-person meetings last year. 062221. Dan Watson/The Signal

City Council 

Members of the Santa Clarita City Council reacted to public comments before voting to send a letter expressing the city’s concerns to the state-mandated committee that developed the plan. 

Jason Gibbs 

“We’re stuck here talking about something that feels like we had no input on. It’s just being put in the middle of a residential area,” said Councilman Gibbs, who described the state’s action of passing along the responsibility of caring for incarcerated youth to local governments as “offensive.” 

“Solving bigger cultural, community issues deserve more than a five-week trailer bill (that) changes how we’ve handled something for years,” he said, referring to Senate Bill 823, which calls for the state’s juvenile facilities to close by 2023. 

Gibbs also took issue with the proximity of the camps to residences. “I mean you’re not talking miles, you’re talking hundreds of feet,” he said. “I don’t say that because I think that there’s going to be this onslaught of people escaping. I’m saying that because there’s not a lot of logic to the choice.” 

Marsha McLean 

“Here is yet one more instance of the state abdicating its responsibility and putting it on to local communities without any thought, without talking to us, without any discussion whatsoever,” said Councilwoman McLean. “The state has billions and billions of dollars supposedly in its surplus… And what are they doing? Giving us the problem.” 

McLean said this conversation was not about juvenile offenders who have turned their lives around. “We’re talking about those who are beyond help and putting it into local communities with residences right next door is just not the thing to do.”  

Laurene Weste 

“This wasn’t planning. This was just throwing it out there,” Mayor Pro Tem Weste said of the state’s process of selecting the camps. “This is just the beginning. We need to talk to our legislators that represent us, and let it be known that this isn’t an acceptable way to behave.” 

Weste said the state addressed the issue in a vacuum. 

“I agree with what I’ve heard from my fellow council members and from everybody that’s testified. Now, there needs to be something done,” Weste said. “This community is a great community and we do work together, and we do try to solve our problems, and we don’t pass it on to someone else. We do the job.” 

The Santa Clarita City Council starts the first in-person City of Santa Clarita City Council meeting on Tuesday since COVID-19 shut down in-person meetings last year. 062221. Dan Watson/The Signal

Cameron Smyth 

Smyth, a former assemblyman, said legislators can attach legislation to the state budget or use a “gut and amend” approach to avoid the traditional legislative process. The state Legislature approved SB 823 by attaching it the state budget as a trailer bill last year.  

“I really have sympathy for the County of L.A. and all the counties because, just as we in Santa Clarita are not having an opportunity to comment on the impacts of this decision, the County of Los Angeles and all of our counties across the state didn’t have the opportunity to comment on what this bill would have on that,” he said. 

Smyth suggested the city draft a letter inviting the state-appointed subcommittee to visit the camps. 

“I bet you they’ve never been here. I bet they don’t know the impacts,” Smyth said, also suggesting that the plan be placed on hold until there’s a public hearing about the plan. “This is a fundamental change, a fundamental shift of the use of those facilities.” 

Bill Miranda 

Mayor Miranda called Santa Clarita a modern city that supports the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders and prison reform, and noted that “this is not an ‘either-or’ situation.” 

“We can accommodate a more appropriate location and at the same time we can work on prison reform,” said Miranda, adding that Camp Scott and Camp Scudder are the wrong location. “I would like to see us work with (county Supervisor Kathryn Barger) to come up with an alternative plan, that is a plan that works for everybody here in this room and everybody affected by this decision.” 

For more coverage of the plan to house juvenile offenders in Saugus, click here.

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