Irvine filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Orange County over a planned 512-bed expansion of Musick Jail, arguing that the county must conduct a new environmental study before moving forward.

According to the lawsuit, the county’s 1998 environmental study is too old and doesn’t address new development around the jail, including the Orange County Great Park.

“It is clear that the character of the neighborhood has changed and that the impacts of an expansion of Musick Jail needs to be studied in a more thoughtful and thorough way, and that has not been done,” said Irvine Councilman Jeffrey Lalloway, who has been an outspoken opponent of the jail expansion.

Lalloway has also forcefully expressed concerns about the types of inmates that would be held at Musick, saying “violent criminals, including murderers, rapists and drug traffickers, can potentially be housed at Musick for up to a week.”

Documents obtained by Voice of OC validate at least some of Lalloway’s concerns. The documents include some details of negotiations between Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and the cities, showing that high-level offenders — those most likely to escape — could be arraigned at Musick Jail and held there for as long as a week afterward.

They also state that Hutchens plans to increase the size of the jail to 3,100 inmates by 2018.

In December, the Orange County Board of Supervisors approved efforts to obtain $100 million in state grant funds to expand the jail, which currently has 1,250 beds. Sheriff’s officials have said the expansion is necessary because of plans to realign state prisons and increase the number of inmates at county jails.

Lake Forest and Irvine fought expansion plans more than a decade ago, filing lawsuits to limit the number of inmates allowed. The cities ultimately lost, giving the sheriff license to expand the jail into a maximum-security prison that could easily house 7,600 inmates.

Irvine again filed suit in 2008 when the sheriff sought state grant funds to expand the jail. The city dropped its case when the county decided not to pursue funding.

Many of the jail expansion’s previous critics, including officials in Irvine and Lake Forest, had appeared placated by Hutchens’ assurances that the jail would always remain a minimum-security facility and wouldn’t house hardened criminals. Irvine Mayor Sukhee Kang had said he had confidence in the negotiations with Hutchens over the jail.

But now it appears those negotiations didn’t go well. According to the city’s lawsuit, city officials believe that some facilities to be built at the jail would be used to house “higher level (i.e., maximum security) inmates.”

Assistant Sheriff Mike James has previously acknowledged discussions about the possibility of a “booking loop,” the term used to describe the registration process for prisoners being booked at the jail.

If the booking loop is added to Musick Jail, high-level offenders would be housed there, James said in a prior interview. But he added, “They could be booked there, and we could get them moved within a week.”

James said that Sheriff’s Department officials have yet to review the lawsuit and couldn’t comment on it yet.


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