Our View | L.A. County: Listen to SCV

Our View

By The Signal Editorial Board

Any illusions that Los Angeles County might consider community input before shoving a new detention facility for violent youth offenders into a Santa Clarita neighborhood have been shattered.

Not only is L.A. County moving forward with the plan, with total disregard for this community’s needs or safety concerns, they’re also expediting it.

The county Board of Supervisors is scheduled Tuesday to consider a motion by Supervisors Holly Mitchell and Sheila Kuehl to fast-track the placement of violent youth offenders at Camp Joseph Scott or Camp Kenyon Scudder in Saugus.

Both camps are within a figurative, if not literal, stone’s throw of residential neighborhoods and schools. And, both camps were originally designed to house non-violent offenders.

If approved, the motion would direct county staff to “ensure that the appropriate renovations are made at Scott or Scudder within 90 days to be safe and ready for use,” while male youth sentenced after July 1, 2021, are temporarily housed at county-run Campus Kilpatrick in Malibu and female youth are housed at the county-run Dorothy Kirby Center in Commerce. 

It wouldn’t be surprising if Mitchell, Kuehl and company seek to characterize Santa Claritans’ objections as NIMBY-ism — not in my back yard. But they’re not exactly pushing to house the violent youth offenders in their back yards, are they?

You know the Malibu community — which is in Kuehl’s district — won’t stand for violent offenders to be held there for very long, and Malibu will be heard.

Will Santa Clarita? So far, the indications are not positive. The county did not even grant the city of Santa Clarita the courtesy of advance notification.

The recommendation to house violent “youth” offenders — some of whom may be as old as 25, having committed their crimes when they were minors — comes from a state-mandated committee that has no Santa Clarita Valley representation. The Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council’s Community Advisory Committee is charged with finding a new way to house youth offenders who, until now, would have been housed by the state. Last year, the state enacted legislation abdicating its responsibility to house violent youth offenders, instead passing the responsibility on to individual counties.

Quietly, the committee zeroed in on the SCV, despite the presence of other more suitable locations elsewhere in the county. The stated goal is to create housing facilities, with a “small group-model environment,” that emphasize rehabilitation and creating opportunities for the incarcerated youth to get a positive fresh start when they return to society.

It’s an admirable goal — but so is public safety. 

“It’s just reckless and hasty to say the least,” Santa Clarita Mayor Bill Miranda said this week of the decision to use Camps Scott and Scudder. “The subcommittee which made this recommendation has not even spent any time talking with our community. In addition, no outreach or communication regarding this plan has been made to the city, or to myself or to any of my fellow council members.” 

The subcommittee’s recommendation first came to light in May, and local opposition to the plan has grown as the community has become aware of it.

The Santa Clarita City Council voted last month to send a letter formally opposing the plan after hearing from residents concerned about impacts on public safety, property values and traffic in Bouquet Canyon. 

Further, a Sheriff’s Department report has found that Camp Scott and Camp Scudder need major security improvements before they would be suited to house violent youth offenders. 

Odds are, Mitchell and Kuehl view their motion as a slam dunk. We’re counting on our valley’s representative, Supervisor Kathryn Barger, to make sure it isn’t.

Michelle Vega, a spokeswoman for Barger, said this week that the supervisor will push for in-person community meetings so Santa Clarita residents can be heard before the decision is final. Vega also said Barger plans to ask that the Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council “assess and report back to the board pretty quickly on the other camps that weren’t assessed.”

Among the possible alternatives are Camp Munz-Mendenhall in Lake Hughes, Holton Conservation Camp and the Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar. 

In addition, we editorialized two weeks ago suggesting that a new camp could be developed on the county’s property at the Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic, where security and traffic would be lesser concerns because of the infrastructure already in place there. We ask that Barger bring that idea forward for consideration as well — which should also counter any notions of our objections simply being of the NIMBY variety.

Those who have watched the county Board of Supervisors in action over the years recognize that it’s not uncommon for a supervisor whose district will be negatively impacted by a decision to go through the motions of opposing it, even as the other supervisors understand the opposition is as much for “show” as anything else. On Tuesday, we ask Barger to make it clear that the Santa Clarita community’s safety, property values and other concerns will not be sacrificed without a real fight.

We encourage residents to join the fight, too. You can find full contact information for all of the supervisors — including email and mail addresses — at bit.ly/3wFHy3f

For easy phone reference: Supervisor Hilda Solis’ office is at 213-974-4111, Mitchell’s is 213-974-2222, Kuehl’s is 213-974-3333, Janice Hahn’s is 213-974-4444 and Barger’s is 213-974-5555.

The Camp Scudder/Camp Scott plan needs to be removed from the Kuehl-Mitchell fast track, and a more reasonable, fair solution needs to be found.

Santa Clarita must at least be heard.

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