Friday, March 30, 2007

Housing, Shopping Development to be Jail's Neighbor

Housing, Shopping Development to be Jail's Neighbor
By Ben Antonius

FAIRFIELD - The county jail will soon have some company at its lonely corner of Clay Bank Road and Air Base Parkway. A lot of company.

Lewis Planned Communities is nearing the start of a massive home and shopping development called The Villages at Fairfield, which within a decade could surround the jail with stores and 2,000 homes. Meanwhile, Solano County is drafting plans for a dramatic expansion that would more than double the size of the 379-bed building.

The question is whether such plans will cause conflict.


And although jails are not usually what real estate agents have in mind when they say "location, location, location," Lewis officials aren't worried about the project next door, they said.

"From our perspective, we're OK with it," Lewis Vice President Bill Millerup said. "We have looked at the (jail) master plan from well before we started planning and took that into consideration."

The company designed its project to put the shopping, office space and open areas closest to the jail, with homes one-third of a mile from the building, he said.

Even that arrangement is causing some consternation for Fairfield police and city leaders, who don't want to see recently released inmates walk out the front gates and into a shopping center.

"Instead of letting them just walk out the front door, the county (should) give them some sort of transportation to the community they came from," Community Development Director Sean Quinn said. "We just didn't want people walking over and hanging out at the shopping center."


In anticipation of needing extra space and with an eye on the Lewis project, the county in September accelerated its expansion construction schedule. It scrapped a $30 million, 224-bed plan in favor of the current, 512-bed one. It has a higher price tag - $88 million - in part because the security will also be beefed up to allow medium- and maximum-security areas.

The added beds would have been built anyway and doing it at once saves money, county architect Kanon Artiche said.

The county is still circulating a draft plan for the expansion and will likely go public with it by May, Artiche said. If everything stays on schedule, groundbreaking could happen in early 2008, he said.

The Villages project also made it a little more urgent to get things started, supervisors said at the time of the decision. Not only could it be a hassle to have to work around existing roads and homes but future neighbors should know what they are getting.

"After there's a bunch of houses, people will start complaining, 'Why are you building a prison in my back yard?' " then-Supervisor Duane Kromm said.


Among all the people involved in the project, there was little question that something has to be done at the site.

"The need for the Clay Bank project is overdue," Artiche said. "There's an impacted need for additional detention beds within the county."

And on top of the existing ones, the county is concerned more could be on their way.

After losing a crucial court battle earlier in the month, California is running out of options for how to relieve the severe overcrowding of its state prisons. Among the remaining choices: Early releases, which are unpopular at best, and putting inmates back into county jails.

"There are a lot of those (inmates) we don't want out on the road," said Mike Reagan, chairman of the Board of Supervisors. "We . . . have to house these prisoners, and it is (a question of) who can get facilities online in what order. This is not rocket science. We need more jails."

The 512-bed expansion won't be the end of the development of the Clay Bank site, either. The project involves putting in the infrastructure to support the addition of yet another 512 beds.

But with the booming prison population and the prospect of having to house more of the state's prisoners, there is already talk about finding the next site.

Although the Clay Bank site seems to be workable, the county could avoid many of the complications by building any future jails farther from populated areas, Fairfield City Manager Kevin O'Rourke said.

"My thing is 'See your future, be your future,' " he said. "Is the county making long-term decisions that will be beneficial for residents over the next 20 or 30 years? Have they looked around the county areas to say, 'This growth of the jail makes sense, will the next one make sense, too?' "

Reach Ben Antonius at 427-6977 or

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