Lawmakers want to sell San Quentin

March 31, 2009 10:01:07 PM PDT
There is a new effort in Sacramento to sell San Quentin State Prison to the highest bidder. The prison sits on a piece of prime real estate that some believe is wasted on crooks, but critics believe selling it would create as many problems as it would solve.

The 400-acre plot is one of California's prime waterfront properties. The sweeping bay view, though, is mostly seen by more than 5,000 inmates at San Quentin.

"My goal is to save the state money," State Sen. Jeff Denham said.

One lawmaker thinks developers would be willing to pay as much as $2 billion for it. It is just one of California's surplus assets Denham wants to sell to reduce the state's huge real estate portfolio and help balance the budget. He says it is a better way to raise money for the financially-strapped state than raising taxes.

"Anywhere there's an opportunity to sell properties off and actually get them off our ownership, our liability and bring in tax dollars from those developments, creating jobs, those are the things we need to focus on," Denham said.

One real estate strategist testified the state could get at least $1 billion in the current market, but the Public Safety committee put the proposal on hold, partly because the state is planning to spend $400 million to improve San Quentin and there is no room at other prisons for the death row inmates if it were to shut down.

"I think this would, indeed, aggravate the overcrowding of the entire prison system to displace 5,000 or more prisoners," state Senate Public Safety Chairman Sen. Mark Leno said.

Denham's next target? The Los Angeles Coliseum. He thinks the state can get up to $400 million for it. But not so fast, says one LA lawmaker, because there are current leases on it, like the one the University of Southern California just signed.

"So the state gains revenue from that and the state gets all the parking revenue, as well as a share from concessions," state Sen. Rod Wright said. "Why would we sell that?"

Last year, CalTrans made $162 million selling surplus assets. The state auditor recently reported California owns nearly 7 million acres of real property, including more than 22,000 structures. She recommends creating an office to oversee the selling of some of that.


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