Out of Control Policy Blog

For Sale: San Quentin?

For the third time in almost as many years, California State Sen. Jeff Denham is floating the idea of selling San Quentin State Prison:

If one California lawmaker has his way, his cash-strapped state may have an arresting real estate listing on the market: San Quentin State Prison. San Quentin prison houses more than 5,300 inmates, including Scott Peterson.

State Sen. Jeff Denham is proposing selling the 432-acre prison, which offers a breathtaking view of San Francisco Bay, to garner money for California.

"Our inmates just don't need an ocean view. Let's level it off," said Denham, a Republican.

"Let's rebuild something for the community there and reap the benefit for the state by having that money come in," he added. Denham estimates that the property could sell for as much as $2 billion, even amid a down market.

On Tuesday, lawmakers put the proposal to sell the prison in a "holding pattern," said Jann Taber, a spokeswoman for Denham.

Unfortunately, as per norm with sensible ideas in California, it appears that this issue will be raised and rejected outright. It's hard to understand why more legislators don't seems to appreciate this simple, but powerful, logic:

"Does it make sense anymore in the year 2009 to continue to invest in expanding this prison facility on the most prime piece of real estate in Northern California, or should we finally start to think about some non-correctional uses for this unique property?" asked state Assembly member Jared Huffman, a Democrat.

See also this related piece from Patrick McGreevy at the Los Angeles Times:

Republicans like Denham who voted against recent tax increases, and some other legislators, are pushing 10 measures to raise billions of dollars by selling underutilized property, including the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and parcels once intended for the extension of the 710 Freeway in South Pasadena.

But some of the proposals are running into a buzz saw of opposition. Indeed, a key state Senate committee is expected today to put the San Quentin bill on a shelf.

A week after the state auditor faulted some agencies for not properly managing surplus property and eight years after she urged an overhaul of the process, it's clearly still difficult for officials to let go of government holdings.

"There is a sense of proprietorship that grips bureaucrats and legislators," said Lew Uhler, president of the California-based National Tax Limitation Committee.

» Reason's Privatization Research and Commentary

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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