Board OKs Environmental Review for Expansion of Musick Jail

The Orange County Board of Supervisors Tuesday unanimously approved key environmental reviews that open the door for an expansion of the James A. Musick Jail.

But while the board might be unanimously in favor of moving ahead with the project, Irvine officials are not. Several came to Tuesday’s supervisors meeting to continue voicing a host of concerns about expansion on 94 acres on county land between Irvine and Lake Forest.

The proposed expansion “will change the fundamental character of the James A. Musick facility,” said Irvine Councilwoman Beth Krom of the proposed expansion. “The costs to local communities are way too high.”

When it was first proposed, Lake Forest officials were also opposed to the expansion, but opposition from that city has softened considerably. The board on Tuesday ratified a key memorandum of understanding that will help the county avoid legal challenges from Lake Forest.

There have been longstanding concerns in both cities about the type of criminal that will be housed at the facility, as well as traffic and impact on neighborhoods.

At the meeting, Krom referred to a letter that listed those and other concerns, including questions about the project’s environmental impact report.

Deputy County Counsel Jack Golden called the letter a “late hit” under the California Environmental Quality Act, saying it contained nothing “that hasn’t been addressed.”

Sheriff Sandra Hutchens urged supervisors to approve the expansion, which she said is key to ensuring the county’s ability to house prisoners being shifted from state prisons under AB 109 as well as a lucrative contract to house federal immigration detainees.

Sheriff’s officials note that while the county’s jail system is handling nearly 6,600 inmates, the network of county jails is only rated for 5,410 beds.