Nearly two years after the state passed legislation to reduce its prison population, local residents and employers may soon have unwanted visitors with the recently announced proposal to construct a probation facility in Commerce. The so-called AB 109 facility will not be a detention center, but would provide parolee services such as drug testing and counseling programs.
The state legislature passed the Public Safety Realignment Act, AB 109 in October of 2011 to meet a federal court order to reduce the overall prison population. Earlier that year the U.S. Supreme Court found the quality of health care provided to California prison inmates unconstitutional.
The AB 109 legislation sets up a new form of supervision of released felons in addition to the traditional forms of parole and probation. The new system, the Post-Release Community Supervision, requires the Los Angeles County Probation Department to monitor eligible parolees. Inmates, whose state convictions include violent offenses as well as those found to be high-risk sex offenders or mentally disordered offenders are not eligible for the community supervision program.
At the last Commerce City Council meeting on August 20, City Administrator Jorge Rifas outlined his concerns regarding new plans by the Board of Supervisors to locate a new probation facility in the city. The proposed location of the facility is 2266 Davie Avenue in the northeast section of the city.
Rifas said in his presentation the facility will house 39 probation officers and will service between 1,950 and 2,500 monthly visits from local parolees. Rifas met with Supervisor Gloria Molina’s staff prior to the meeting to receive initial information on the proposal. Rifas said the facility is designated to service parolees in a seven-mile radius of the west San Gabriel Valley.
“We’re very concerned about this,” Rifas told the council. “I find this unacceptable.”
Rifas stated the addition of a new probation facility, along with a current array of local rehabilitation-based facilities such as the Salvation Army Bell Shelter and the Dorothy Kirby Center creates a “disproportionate impact of parole, incarceration type, confined institutions in our community.”
He said he does not believe the county took the unique nature of Commerce into consideration. He referred to Commerce as a regional center of employment with over 55,000 employees at local businesses including the Citadel Outlets, Costco and the Commerce Casino. He stated that the new facility would be 500 to 1,000 feet away from the employee parking lot at the Commerce Casino. Rifas pointed to the a free shuttle service between the Citadel and Union Station downtown as evidence that Commerce is a local tourist attraction.
While AB 109 is written to prevent violent and serious offenders from inclusion into the community supervision program, Rifas said based on his conversations with Jim Wolak, station captain of the East Los Angeles Sheriffs station, there is still much to be concerned about.
He said according to Wolak, the eligibility requirement for AB 109 status only relates to the nature of the parolees’ current conviction and does not take into account any previous offenses. As a result, some AB 109 parolees may have previous violent felony convictions.
What is clear is that most of the parolees who will visit the center will have an active history of narcotics abuse and theft. In an area within close proximity to large parking lots at the Citadel shopping venue and other high-traffic destinations, there is concern that any increase in small crimes can produce larger consequences for the business community. In addition to the safety of residents, Commerce is also responsible for maintaining a consumer friendly environment for its business community.
At the conclusion of his report, Rifas reaffirmed his opposition to the proposal. “The nature of our city is an industrial community, “ he said. “Do we need this?”
“Jorge I think the word is not need. It is ‘Do we deserve it’?” responded Councilwoman Tina Baca Del Rio. “What have we done?”
Upon learning of the proposal in June, Rifas informed the County that the designated area has a zoning restriction against such a facility. However, because the County is implementing a statewide program, it has a higher pubic purpose. This allows the County to supersede any local restrictions.
The Council agreed to send a letter of opposition to each member of the Board of Supervisors.
“The City has notified Supervisor Molina’s office that we are adamantly opposed to the location of this facility in our community,” Rifá told EGP Wednesday in an email statement.
The email also cited the additional concern of an adult bookstore located 270 feet away from the building, which could act as a magnet for criminal activity.
According to city staff, county officials “notified Commerce that the proposed land use first needs to go before the Los Angeles County Planning Commission before it can be considered by the Board of Supervisors.”
On Wednesday, Molina spokesperson Roxane Marquez told EGP in an email that a site for the facility has not yet been selected and the supervisor’s office is working with the community to explore all options. “Sup. Molina has yet to take a position – and she won’t do so until she’s finished vetting all information and is satisfied that she’s heard from the community,” Marquez said.