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As Great Park houses go up, nearby county jail plans big expansion

Irvine's protests of plans that could turn the jail into one of the nation's largest, and allow higher-risk inmates, have been rebuffed.

December 23, 2013|By Paloma Esquivel

On a barren stretch of road on the edge of Irvine, a tasteful brown sign topped with a whimsical orange bicycle announces that a long-anticipated addition to the city is finally underway: the thousands of elegant new homes around the perimeter of the city's planned Great Park.

The park itself will also soon grow, now that a plan to build 688 acres has been approved. And a long-awaited high school nearby is expected to open in 2016, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Just down the road, another long-stalled project is also finally underway — the addition of hundreds of jail beds to a county lockup once so rustic it was known as "The Farm." Now it could become one of Orange County's largest jails and eventually one of the largest in the nation.

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Sheriff's officials have promised that the jail will fit nicely next to the master-planned city.

It will look "just like a government or a public building, very nice landscaping.... It's really going to look quite nice," said Robert Beaver, director of the sheriff's research and development division.

But in a city that prides itself as being known as America's safety, the idea of a large jail — or a "multistory hardened mega-jail," as Councilman Larry Agran describes it — isn't sitting well.

This city filed two legal challenges since last year aimed at stopping the expansion and may file a third.

"When you're talking about a vast, major metropolitan area with a lot of new development to take place in close proximity to this burgeoning jail, I just think that represents very poor public planning," Agran said.

Even so, the long-planned expansion of James A. Musick jail is moving forward.

This year the county secured $100 million in state funding to add 512 beds at Musick. Now it is applying for an additional $80 million that would pay for 384 rehabilitation beds, bringing the total to more than 2,000 beds over the next seven years. Eventually, it could house more than 7,000 inmates.

The expansion will also change the nature of the compound, allowing it to house higher-risk inmates.

Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer said the county needs the added rehabilitation beds for prisoners who are being housed locally because of state prison realignment.

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