From – Los Angeles Herald Examiner (August 5, 1988)
Title – “The Latinas make their mark” “In fighting East L.A. prison, Molina and Roybal-Allard challenge male politicos”
The Latino community hasn’t given up its struggle to keep a state prison off the doorsteps of Boyle Heights.
The latest chapter in the 2-year-old story came July 26, when the state Department of Corrections held hearings on a draft Environmental Impact Report on the proposed prison. The proceedings and the report provide valuable insight into how Latino politics may be changing and how the state uses studies to further its goals.
“No prison in East L.A.” supporters filled the hearing room. An indoor temperature of 120 degrees and the crowded conditions stoked longstanding tensions. Many of the protesters charged that Department of Corrections staff had purposely cut off the air conditioning to punish them.
Attention, however, quickly shifted to Councilwoman Gloria Molina, whose political and personal appeal has climbed immeasurably as a result of her commitment to the East L.A. cause. She combatively addressed the English-speaking panel members in Spanish. Translated, she said: “This community, which already houses 75 percent of the county’s inmates, does not deserve another lockup in its midst. …[The proposed prison is sited] in a community that houses 870,000 people within a five mile radius.”
The absence of Latino politicos – other than Molina, Assemblywoman Lucille Roybal-Allard was the only other Latino politician to testify – angered many in the audience. State Sen. Art Torres and Rep. Edward Roybal sent administrative assistants. Councilman Richard Alatorre and Assemblymen Richard Polanco and Charles Calderon, or their aides, were nowhere to be seen. President Pro Tem of the Senate David Roberti, who made the East L.A. prison something of a cause last year, was also missing. Which makes one wonder if the Chicana feminists were not right when they asserted that Latinas were more sensitive to the needs of Latino families.
Significantly, the “No Prison in East L.A.” movement has given both Molina and Roybal-Allard a forum to showcase alternatives to the “Let’s make a deal” politics of the Latino male establishment. Without them and the Mothers of East L.A., various service organizations and little Resurrection Parish, the no-prison issue would have died long ago. Clearly, the two Latinas, especially Molina, pose a serious challenge to the male dominance of politics in East L.A.
The hearings also highlighted another important issue: Why are state agencies allowed to squander taxpayers’ dollars on studies that do not meet minimum standards of scholarly review? The agencies depend on consulting firms to measure objectively the various effects of proposed state projects. Trouble is, the proposing agency commissions the studies.
The Department of Corrections’ EIR is a case in point of this conflict of interest. At the hearings, numerous experts and lay persons exposed the report’s methodological weaknesses. Deputy City Attorney William Waterhouse characterized the report as “legally inadequate and completely biased.”
For example, the study mentions no specific prison site, despite a recent court decision (Anaheim vs. Orange County) requiring the report’s authors to do so. The views of experts on the history and social development of East L.A. were also conspicuously absent.
Worse, the authors of the EIR revealed a total lack of common sense. Not one of them thought to consider the symbolism of a 70-foot-high prison located in an area, easily visible from the freeway, where the tallest buildings are 35 feet. But maybe L.A.’s proposed Statue of Liberty West should be a prison.
In any case, the Department of Corrections says it wants to soften the potential eyesore by use of greenery. Interestingly, one of the greenbelts would sit on top of the infamous Capri Dump, one of the most highly contaminated sites in California and a potent symbol of government’s indifference to protecting the health and safety of the poor.
Symbolism aside, the report concludes that fears by East L.A. residents about prisoner security are unfounded, citing case studies in rural areas in Alabama and Florida. Furthermore, in assessing the impact of the prison on Los Angeles’ General Plan, the report glosses over the fact hat the prison would further strain the city’s already beleaguered sewage system and delay construction of needed housing units.
Yet most annoying of all is the EIR’s cavalier attitude towards the question of how building a prison would reduce Los Angeles’ industrial property, the shortage of which has reached crisis levels. Wiping out industrial zones would clearly hurt minorities who could not qualify for the civil-service jobs the prison would generate. (Private use of the proposed site would create four times the jobs the prison would.) Moreover, a prison would discourage industrial development nearby, thus costing the city considerable tax revenue.
Even the most partisan of prison advocates will find it difficult to accept the EIR. East L.A. is just not getting a fair hearing. Regrettably, because the media regard the prison as “old news,” taxpayers will remain ignorant of how their tax money is being wasted to satisfy George Deukmejian’s caprice to dump a state prison in a minority area.