By The Signal Editorial Board
Chalk up a big “W” in the win column for the Santa Clarita Valley.
Thanks to the efforts of the city of Santa Clarita, Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger and other community leaders, the county has finally thought better of its plan to house its most violent juvenile offenders in Saugus.
On Tuesday, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors dropped its plan to house up to 150 violent juvenile offenders — some of whom can be in custody up to age 25 — at Camp Scott in Bouquet Canyon, an aging facility that previously housed female juvenile offenders.
The plan was a bad one from the start.
Camp Scott is ill-suited for that particular population, in terms of facilities, location and safety, not just for the surrounding community but also for the staff and occupants of the camp. The facility would have needed many millions of dollars in improvements to be up to the task, and even then, it would have been a poor choice as a location for the juvenile offenders who have committed the most violent crimes.
Faced with a lawsuit from the city of Santa Clarita challenging its choice, the county Board of Supervisors this week voted unanimously in favor of a new plan that will house the violent male juvenile offenders at the Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar and at Campus Kilpatrick in Malibu, a $48 million project that was built as the flagship of the “L.A. Model” for rehabilitating youth offenders.
Using Campus Kilpatrick, it seems, should have been a no-brainer, because it’s a modern, expensive facility built for this exact purpose.
The new motion approved by the supervisors calls for the Probation Department to “renovate Camp Scott to end the temporary use of Dorothy Kirby Center (in Commerce), return young women and girls from Dorothy Kirby Center to Camp Scott and operate Camp Scott as the one county detention facility for all girls.”
Some of the concerns about Camp Scott remain: Ingress and egress will remain an issue, as will safety in the event of a fire, flood or other disaster. Even as the county shifts its intent and plans to house female youth offenders there instead of their more violent male counterparts, it seems there remains much work to do in order to make Camp Scott a safe and suitable modern location.
The fact remains that the camp is in a potential flood zone if Bouquet Reservoir were to fail, and wildfires in Bouquet Canyon can be deadly. While we are relieved that the murderers and rapists of the male juvenile offender population will not be there, the county also still has a responsibility to ensure Camp Scott is a safe location for the female youth offender population and the community surrounding the camp.
All of these changes have been forced into fruition by the state of California, which has decided to make counties responsible for housing violent youth offenders, who previously have been housed in the California Youth Authority system. As a result, the county and its Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council-Juvenile Justice Realignment Block Grant Subcommittee have been working — quietly — over the past couple of years to develop a plan to accommodate that new responsibility.
They turned their attention immediately, and seemingly exclusively, to Camp Scott.
When the plan was first made known in the middle of 2021, it prompted an outcry from The Signal and from local residents and city officials alike. The county’s machinations toward placing violent youth in the SCV had proceeded without any local notice, and without any input sought from the city or the community. City officials and the community didn’t even learn of the county’s plan until The Signal broke the story in 2021.
You could hit a 9-iron from Santa Clarita city limits to Camp Scott, and the county hadn’t even given the city so much as a courtesy call saying, “Here’s what we’re thinking of doing…”
Further, when Camp Scott was first built in the 1950s, its Bouquet Canyon location was remote, with little traffic in the area. Now, it’s a stone’s throw from multiple suburban neighborhoods and a much higher civilian population, on a road with one way in and one way out.
When the city and the community first raised objections, the county Board of Supervisors — operating as a 4-1 majority, overruling objections from Barger, our representative on the board — went through the motions of evaluating other potential sites.
It seemed like a foregone conclusion that they would end up choosing Camp Scott, until the city dug in its heels and filed a lawsuit challenging the plan under the California Environmental Quality Act, alleging that the county had not done its due diligence on what it would take for the site to safely be used for that purpose and to do so without causing undue harm to the environment. Again, some of those valid concerns remain, whether the population being housed there is male or female, and should still be addressed.
Barger, too, has worked to steer the county in a more sensible direction, advocating that the Nidorf facility in Sylmar should be used instead, as male juvenile offenders are already housed there when they are awaiting trial. Often on the losing end of a 4-1 vote, Barger deserves credit for standing up for her constituency.
It also bears mentioning that the retirement of former 3rd District Supervisor Sheila Kuehl helped improve the odds of persuading the county to change its Camp Scott plan. Kuehl had been an ardent supporter of sending the violent youth offenders to Saugus.
We commend Barger, City Manager Ken Striplin, the city staff and the City Council for their leadership in looking out for the community they serve, in the face of opposition from powerful people in Downtown L.A. This decision by the county is a much more sensible approach to the dilemma at hand.
And, it absolutely would not have happened if Barger and the city had not pushed back and refused to let the SCV be pushed around by the other four members of the Board of Supervisors.