A city of Santa Clarita official confirmed Friday that work has begun on Camp Scott, which has concerned city officials who have expressed ardent opposition to an L.A. County plan that would turn the former all-girls probationary camp into a facility to house high-risk male juvenile offenders.
The scope of the work underway this week includes a reinforcement of the guardrails and addition of lights to the driveway leading to the camp’s entrance, according to Masis Hagobian, intergovernmental relations officer for the city of Santa Clarita.
City officials filed a lawsuit in April to try to stop the renovation of the facility — the only Probation Department facility exclusively housing girls. The facility was completed in May 1958, but has been closed since May 2020.
The city also sought a preliminary injunction in November to prevent further construction from being undertaken at the site until a standard environmental review of the scope of the work needed to reopen Camp Scott is completed.
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge denied the injunction Nov. 10 and ruled the scope of work now underway had been planned since 2015, in a judgment that also noted county staff considered the construction part of necessary safety elements regardless of the future use of the site.
In that ruling, the judge found “The Guardrails Project” predated the Secure Youth Track Facility Project, the name of the plan involving the youth camp conversions. County officials also argued the city’s lawsuit demanding an environmental review of the Camp Scott renovation project was premature, as a March decision by the county “only committed to ‘further exploration’ of Camp Scott as a permanent SYTF location, and directed that staff return to the board with a proposal before it would consider designating Camp Scott.”
Hagobian described the situation as being part of “active litigation” Friday afternoon. The next hearing date in the lawsuit is Jan. 19 in downtown Los Angeles, according to Los Angeles Superior Court records available online.
At a March meeting of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, a motion by Supervisors Holly Mitchell and Sheila Kuehl recommending Camp Scott in Santa Clarita and Campus Kilpatrick in the unincorporated area of Malibu Canyon as permanent facilities for juvenile males formerly under the Division of Juvenile Justice authority, passed with a 4-1 vote. Supervisor Kathryn Barger, whose district includes the Santa Clarita Valley, was the lone vote of opposition.
A preliminary report released in April by the county’s Probation Department, which oversees juvenile offenders, suggested the renovations required could cost upward of $37 million and take four to five years to complete. (A 2016 facilities study conducted by the department indicated then that the facility was in need of about $17.35 million in work “just to bring it to a state of good repair without any functional or programmatic improvements.”)
A further study on the situation issued in August by the Probation Department, which also was presented to the Juvenile Justice Realignment Block Grant Committee — a group charged with transitioning the previous statewide system of juvenile incarceration facilities into county-run secure youth treatment facilities in accordance with state law — noted Campus Vernon Kilpatrick in Malibu, also known as Camp Kilpatrick, which opened in 2017, would serve as the temporary home. The report also indicated officials didn’t think the facility had the capacity to house all of the demand.
Despite an indicated focus on avoiding incarceration for juvenile offenders, a meeting Wednesday of the Probation Department’s Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council included a presentation that indicated the county had “an urgent need to identify enough beds to address the increased population that we will see over the next several months.”
The county indicated its current capacity among several different facilities is 130, which is not enough to meet the projected demand, according to a Secure Youth Treatment Facilities presentation.
City officials also noted the yearslong timeline identified by the county as necessary for the Camp Scott renovations didn’t make sense when compared to information presented at this week’s meeting, which stated that, “Courts are driving the move of DJJ youth back to L.A. County. Cases will begin going to court in February 2023.”
The “pros” of using Camp Scott identified in Wednesday’s meeting were: the facility has two adjacent camps (including Camp Scudder, which was formerly a low-level boys facility before its March 2017 closure) with ample recreation and programming space; it offers no interference with existing programming; and its “potential to renovate for ideal program” with the addition of 50 beds, which would meet the county’s projected capacity demands.
The “cons” listed include: “significant community opposition”; the fact that its open dorms would require significant and costly upgrades; the multiyear timeline; and that it would open a closed facility and expand the “footprint” for juvenile detention facilities, which is the antithesis of the effort.
One of the city’s primary concerns with the renovations was the facility’s location in a flood and high-fire-danger zone. Several months prior to its May 2020 closure, the camp was evacuated in October 2019 due to the Tick Fire, according to the Probation Department’s website.
Karla Tovar, a spokeswoman for the Juvenile Justice Realignment Block Grant Committee, noted via email Friday, “There have been no further developments regarding Camp Scott.”
A member of the Probation Oversight Commission noted Friday that both the commission and the committee are advisory bodies, and decisions regarding the juvenile detention facilities would ultimately rest with the county Board of Supervisors.
A statement issued Friday by Barger’s office supported the county’s assertion that the work being done is considered as “deferred maintenance.” She also reiterated her support for the city’s opposition to the proposed renovation.
“The city of Santa Clarita has challenged the county’s decision to house Secure Youth Track Facility youth at Camp Scott and I fully support their efforts,” according to a statement from Barger emailed Friday by Helen Chavez, Barger’s assistant chief of staff for communications. “I want my constituents to know that the feasibility of using Camp Scott is still being vetted by the Probation Department and the Juvenile Justice Realignment Block Grant Subcommittee. I remain vigilant and am tracking any new developments closely.”