The L.A. County Board of Supervisors delayed the vote on a motion Tuesday that would create a permanent juvenile-detention facility at Camp Joseph Scott or Camp Kenyon Scudder, which are both in Saugus.
The move comes as Santa Clarita officials sent letters to the board, contending the project requires a comprehensive assessment before continuing.
If approved, the board motion would adopt a state subcommittee’s recommendations to move violent youth offenders to the Saugus facilities, which were originally designed to host nonviolent youth offenders, while directing the county to “ensure that the appropriate renovations are made at Scott or Scudder within 90 days to be safe and ready for use.”
However, the City Council is urging the board to table the item until the subcommittee conducts a comprehensive assessment of the facilities, including a proper land use and environmental review, dictated by the California Environmental Quality Act, as well as consultation with local officials, and engagement and meetings with Santa Clarita residents.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger, whose 5th District includes the Santa Clarita Valley, issued a statement following the decision to delay the vote, stating it’s an important decision that should “include robust stakeholder engagement and thorough community input.”
“In the interest of transparency and accountability, it is our responsibility as elected officials to ensure our communities have a voice in these matters and to provide ample time for such crucial outreach,” Barger continued in the statement. “In addition, any plans to house this sensitive population of youth should consider and evaluate all of the available county options — including both open and closed probation camps. I will continue to press forward on this issue and advocate for feedback from the impacted residents, along with input from our justice system partners who will be involved in caring for this population of youth.”
Due to the limited time the Juvenile Justice Realignment Block Grant subcommittee had to research and develop a preliminary plan before its June 30 deadline, Camps Scott and Scudder were “hastily identified” as the proposed location, without any community input or stakeholder engagement, and failing to consider all open and closed camps — such as Munz, Mendenhall, Holton and Miller — according to Barger’s statement.
Barger has also requested the county’s legal counsel review the letters submitted by the Santa Clarita attorney and City Council to determine whether additional assessment is required, according to Barger’s spokeswoman Michelle Vega.
“I’m very pleased. The board’s actions today made me happy — to an extent,” Santa Clarita Mayor Bill Miranda told The Signal following Tuesday’s decision. “It’s clear that the serious concerns that we have raised resonated with some of the county representatives. Otherwise, I don’t think we would have gotten a continuance. … It’s a small victory, but nonetheless, it’s a victory for our city and our community.”
Miranda continued to emphasize that the work isn’t done, as the issue will be revisited in the coming weeks at the board’s next meeting, and urged residents to continue contacting the board.
“We have to continue to work hard to have the county recognize that neither Camp Scott nor Camp Scudder are suitable to serve the (Department of Juvenile Justice) population,” Miranda added, highlighting some of the issues noted in the City Council’s letter, including the environmental and security concerns with the camps located in both a high-risk fire and flood zones, as well as in close proximity to nearby housing developments.
“The county has to recognize that there are other existing county facilities that offer greater security for those inside the facilities and in the surrounding communities … and that offer the DJJ the best chance for rehabilitation,” Miranda said.
Of the alternative proposed locations was Camp Kilpatrick, a juvenile detention camp located in the Santa Monica Mountains that was recently renovated in 2017 with more than $45 million in investments to the security and implementation of the “care first” model.
However, Vega noted there are a couple of issues with the camp, such as security concerns with the way the campus is laid out in the mountains of Malibu and a potential capacity issue once the county does accept all of the DJJ youth.
Additionally, Vega said Kilpatrick doesn’t have a Hope Center, which is a place designed for youth to cool down for short periods of time, rather than be placed in solitary confinement, which is part of the programming plan for this population.
Kilpatrick is set to remain a probation camp for youth typically under the county’s jurisdiction, Vega added. The youth who would be sent to Camp Scott or Camp Scudder are the violent offenders who previously would have been in state custody. Last year, the state enacted legislation that makes county governments responsible for housing violent youth offenders.
Santa Clarita residents and leaders’ concerns were heard by the board during Tuesday’s public comment, including Councilwoman Marsha McLean, who contrasted the handling of this issue with her past experience working with most of the board members through the League of California Cities.
“Transparency and collaboration were always at the forefront, but this time, that didn’t seem to happen,” McLean said, again expressing the city’s frustrations of the lack of communication on the matter.
“In Santa Clarita, we care deeply about our youth — both before and after they may have committed wrongdoing,” McLean added.
While the city welcomed the facilities when they were probation camps used to rehabilitate nonviolent youth, McLean said it would be cost-prohibitive to enhance these camps enough to safely handle the entire DJJ population.
Following public comment, county Executive Officer Celia Zavala read in the continuance of the motion, which was requested by Supervisor Holly Mitchell, who co-authored the motion with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.
In a letter sent to the board Tuesday, state Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, too, expressed his opposition to the plan.
“Making this move without the proper security features in place is a mistake,” Wilk’s letter read. “The nearby communities deserve to feel safe in their homes and should be allowed to provide their input. It’s clear that right now, the security needs to house violent offenders far exceeds what is present at this facility. … It is my hope that this delay will allow time for public hearings and comment on a decision that greatly impacts our community.”
Mitchell’s office has not returned request for comment as of the publication of this story, and Kuehl’s office deferred comment to Mitchell, as she is the lead on the motion.
It remains unclear as to what steps will be taken in the meantime before the motion is brought before the board again in the next meeting.
The board is set to discuss the motion again at its next regular meeting, which is scheduled 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, July 27.