During a town hall meeting with county officials Wednesday night, a number of local residents expressed their concerns over a possible plan to house the county’s most violent youth offenders at Camp Scott in Saugus.
While a handful of speakers voiced their support for the plan to relocate the population to the camp located on the 28700 Bouquet Canyon Road, a majority of those in attendance expressed their concerns over fire/flood safety, the people who would be coming to visit the juvenile offenders, and the logistics/feasibility of a narrow two-lane road servicing both the facility and residents.
“We are not monsters or racist,” said Grace Elliot, a resident who lives near Camp Scott. “We’re opposed to (18- to 25-year-old) men with violent backgrounds and felony convictions of murder, rape, arson, robbery and more, being housed in any residential community.”
Held in Santa Clarita City Council chambers, the meeting represented the latest chapter in the story of Camp Scott, which had been closed since May 2020 and previously housed low-level juvenile offenders. Since the announcement to possibly reopen Camp Scott — as a part of Youth Justice Reimagined initiative and Senate Bill 823 — earlier this year, a number of local residents and community leaders have voiced their opposition to the plan.
Despite other facilities in L.A. County appearing to have better “scorecards” than the Camp Scott facility, the campus was placed on a short list of possible sites to house the male juvenile offender population. Among the issues Camp Scott would need to address are a number of improvements to the infrastructure and security systems.
Camp Scott was also listed as having possibly the worst score, by the scorecard’s rubric, in terms of the fire/flood safety for the campus, a chief talking point for many of the residents speaking at Wednesday’s meeting.
“We are subject to fires, floods, power blackouts and traffic jams during emergency evacuations in Saugus,” Elliot added. “Prison escapes, gang members, and convicted violent felons and their visitors is a serious problem. We are concerned about our safety and our security.”
Marie Godby, a Saugus resident and retired L.A. County Probation Department employee of 36 years, questioned why there hadn’t been a more secure facility acquired by the county — as opposed to an older Camp Scott — to house the population.
Adam Bettino, chief deputy at the Probation Department and chair of the Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council, who also sat on the panel Wednesday night, said that a few other facilities received good scores on the scorecard, but many, if not all, had already been set toward another purpose or population.
In attendance were both Mayor Bill Miranda and Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste, who both shared a mutual concern over the safety of residents and the potential Camp Scott population when disaster strikes.
“Camp Scott is downstream from Bouquet Dam and is within the dam’s blue line stream,” said Weste, highlighting that the Bouquet Dam and Sr. Francis Dam, which catastrophically failed in 1928, were both built by the same field engineer. “Eighty-five years later, the Bouquet Dam holds up to 12 billion gallons of water (and) in a breach, like an earthquake or some man-made event, the flood maps indicated that Camp Scott would be inundated beneath 26 feet of water in less than 50 minutes.”
Weste noted how the two-lane Bouquet Canyon Road would need to be the road getting residents, emergency personnel, Camp Scott staff and inmates up and down the road with only minutes to spare. Miranda commented that the new 375-unit residential housing unit coming to the area should also be accounted for.
While the strong majority of residents continued to express their concerns about the visitors coming to their neighborhood to see violent youth offenders housed at Camp Scott, others stated they feared the trauma it might cause the Saugus High School shooting victims living in the area or how there could be a shortage of resources in the event of an escape.
In spite of the opposing comments, a handful of speakers did step forward in support of the Camp Scott selection, should that be the county’s ultimate decision.
“These are kids that never had a fair chance; I hear their stories and the abuse that they’ve gone through and I’m saddened by what I hear,” said Sam Lewis, a Santa Clarita resident, who said that he regularly volunteers with counseling in juvenile halls. “And I’m saddened by what I hear when people say ‘not in my backyard’ … If you had a chance to know these kids, they just want a chance to live their best life.”
Aaron Parkman, a supervising psychologist at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall and Santa Clarita resident, said that he lives in the community with his own kids, but sympathized with the trauma experienced by Department of Juvenile Justice youth.
“Yes, they’ve done horrible things, but I think we can’t always just keep saying ‘not in our backyard,’” said Parkman. “Eventually someone has to give these kids a place to get help … the therapists that I work with, they all want to come back (to Camp Scott).”
In addressing people’s concerns about upgrading the population from low-level offenders to high-level offenders, Bettino stated that Camp Scott has housed violent offenders before. He also noted a “loud and clear” theme of opposition to the camp coming to Saugus.
“They’ve committed some pretty serious offenses, and they’ve made some pretty serious mistakes,” said Bettino. “I want to be clear that our plan is to build a program that is transformational, that allows folks to restore their lives in a safe and secure environment.”
“And then also, just around the safety and security of the facility itself, we will take every measure possible to ensure wherever this site is it is as safe and secure as possible,” Bettino added.
Although a hard date has not yet been decided upon, county officials have said in the past that a decision by the Board of Supervisors would be made in November.