Irvine Council Meets Tuesday to Consider Proposed ‘Jailhouse Schoolhouse’


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Jailhouse Rock meets Schoolhouse Rock

Jailhouse Rock meets Schoolhouse Rock in Irvine — and they make horrible Musick together (until someone gets hurt.)

I’ve known about the proposal to build Irvine’s new (and apparently last) high school near to the soon to be expanded Musick Jail in the Great Park area, but I’ve been paralyzed by the seemingly inexhaustible number of potential puns to use in the headline …

“High School Musick’ll Redefine ‘Detention’?”

“Minimum Care about Maximum Security”?

Schoolhouse Rocked: Lally, Lally, Lally, Get Your Convicts Here”?

“Corrections Junction, What’s Your Function?  Interjections!”

… the last two of which are probably impenetrable to readers under 35 or 40 and the first of which will be lost on those who are above that age without children.

Sadly for my desire to construct the attention-grabbing Headline of the Decade to describe the curious proposal to build a new high school within a ten-minute stroll (and maybe a six-minute run) of an expanded and security-upgraded state prison when other very good options are available  – as you can see, I decided just now on “Jailhouse Schoolhouse” – this bubbling controversy now seems about to boil over — so, ready or not, it’s time to write the story.

Lucky for me, Irvine Councilwoman Beth Krom unknowingly wrote most of it for me — which I use here without permission — and her supporters are plastering it all over the Internet:

I am writing because it is urgent that people who care about good planning, particularly when it comes to the welfare and safety of our young people, attend tomorrownight’s City Council meeting (September 10th — City Council Chambers at Irvine City Hall, corner of Harvard and Alton).

Incredibly, there is a plan to build Irvine’s next High School 1000 yards from the soon-to-be expanded [Musick] Jail! When I say soon-to-be-expanded, the County has $100 million from the state of California to do Phase 1 which will double the size of the jail to over 2000 beds and a certified [Environmental Impact Report]  that would allow them to ultimately grow the facility to over 7500 beds making it the largest jail in California.

I will save the discussion of the County’s “rent-a-bed” scheme for another time, but suffice it to say that these new beds are not being driven by our own county needs, but rather by the opportunity to make tens of millions of dollars to house ICE detainees and other criminals. 

Does that sound like a good “neighbor” for a High School in a city that is recognized for educational excellence and safety?

The school district will tell you that the developer gave them that site and they had no good alternatives. Isn’t it unfortunate that Five Point Communities, the private developer who is building homes next to the Great Park would choose a High School site across from a Jail? Worse still, houses proximate to the High School (which currently haven’t even been approved for development) will be in the Saddleback school district! That means most of the students attending the High School won’t live anywhere near the High School, and those living near the High School will be in the Saddleback School District.

In a city known for planning excellence, this is a planning disaster. Fortunately, there is a solution. Land can be provided by the city within the Orange County Great Park that would not only be better situated, but which could benefit from joint use sports facilities. Doesn’t that make better sense?

If the community does not speak out in favor of the proposal to move the location of Irvine’s last High School to the Great Park, the school district will just keep moving down the path its on. That’s why it is critically important that you show up at the City Council meeting tomorrow night. This item will come up around 6:30, but you may want to come around 5:30 to hear a discussion about another land use matter involving the private developer and their vision for development in and around the Great Park.

Here is a link to an article about the High School that recently appeared in Irvine Matters, a newsletter put out by Larry Agran and me: http://www.irvinematters.com/planning-irvines-next-high-school-our-last-best-chance-to-get-it-right/

(If you are not receiving Irvine Matters Newsletters and updates, please sign up here: http://www.irvinematters.com/stay-informed/)

I know lives are busy, but if this plan goes forward there will be no chance for a “do-over.” Thanks in advance for coming down to the City Council meeting to watch, listen and express your support for moving the proposed High School away from the jail.

Because you weren’t yet convinced to click the above link (were you?) I’m going to copy over the meat of what’s written there as well — which will explain the much better alternative available to the Council if it wishes not to build a new high school within 1000 yards of what would potentially be the largest prison in the state.

Here’s the story.  Irvine needs to build a major new high school — in the northern part of the City where most of the residential growth and development is taking place.  The Irvine Unified School District, which is responsible for building the new high school, estimates that it will cost at least $262 million.  That’s more than $1000 for every man, woman and child living in Irvine! 

A new state-of-the-art high school should be a tremendous asset to the entire city — but only if it’s located in the right place.  That’s the problem.  Instead of putting the new high school at the western edge of the Great Park — close to the new residential villages where thousands of Irvine residents already live — the School District has decided to put the high school on the eastern edge of Irvine, close to the Musick Jail and the City of Lake Forest. (See Site A on map.  Click here for map.)

This is the worst possible location for Irvine’s next high school.  Here’s why:

•  First, Site A, located on land now owned by Heritage Fields/FivePoint Communities, is in the most remote area of our City.  A new high school at this location would be a long-distance commuter school for students coming from villages that are mostly 3 to 4 miles away (Woodbury, Woodbury East, Stonegate, Portola Hills, Cypress Village and possibly portions of Northwood).

•  Second, while Heritage Fields/FivePoint Communities is proposing about 5,000 new housing units as part of a new entitlement proximate to Site A, more than half of these Irvine residential units will actually be located in the Saddleback Valley Unified School District.  That means these Irvine-based students would be attending El Toro High School — nearly 3 miles away — deriving no benefit from the new Irvine high school at Site A.

•  Third, a further concern with Site A is its proximity to a major correctional facility.  The Orange County Supervisors and the Sheriff are continuing their drive to transform the nearby James A. Musick Honor Farm — now a minimum-security, dormitory-style correctional facility housing about 1,000 inmates — into a huge, multi-story, hardened jail facility soon housing 3,100 inmates and, eventually, up to 7,500 inmates.  Obviously, if the County prevails, the character of the Musick facility as a minimum-security honor farm would be completely changed.  In fact, under the County’s massive jail expansion proposal, provision would have to be made for maximum-security prisoners at Musick.   The proposed new high school — at Site A — would be just 1,000 yards from Musick Jail.

By comparison, an alternative site near Trabuco and Sand Canyon — Site B — is located in the already developing Western Sector of the Great Park.  (See Site B on map.  Click here for map.)  This is City-owned land that is a superior site for several good reasons:

•  First, a new high school at Site B would be in close proximity to many thousands of existing Irvine residents north of the Interstate 5 Freeway and east of Jeffrey Road.

•  Second, a high school at Site B — adjacent to or actually part of the Great Park Sports Park — would create an ideal opportunity for state-of-the-art joint use athletic facilities.  These major athletic facilities would likely include:  a championship football/soccer stadium; baseball diamonds; soccer fields; a large gymnasium/field house; a tennis complex; and perhaps an aquatics complex.  (Additional joint-use facilities could, of course, be of a non-athletic character — for example, a large, state-of-the-art high school/Great Park theater and amphitheater.)

•  Third, under the terms of the State’s school funding provisions, the City/Great Park could be expected to receive at least $60 million for the value of the land at Site B, representing a large infusion of funds to accelerate the Great Park’s Western Sector development.

The new high school and the associated athletic facilities and other amenities altogether are expected to cost more than $300 million — far more than any other public facilities built in the history of the City of Irvine.  Irvine’s newest high school, certainly built to last more than 100 years, will forever impact the entire northern part of our City, including the Great Park.  That’s why this is a land-use planning decision that our entire Irvine community must get right!

I’m going to give Jeff Lalloway and Stephen Choi the benefit of the doubt and suggest that maybe they are simply confused over whether parents want a new high school — for an adjoining school district, not Irvine’s! — built in such close proximity to a prison.  (Or maybe they don’t even know about this other proposed site, which suggests that they too might want to sign up to receive Irvine Matters.)

But as has become usual, the decision on whether to choose the horror show or the happy ending will fall on Councilwoman Christine Shea, who has become a bit more independent lately as “Lally Lally Lally” Lalloway has increasingly become adverbially aggressive in his criticism of her on Facebook, alienating her with the brio that Justice Antonin Scalia once used to alienate  Justice Sandra Day O’Connor sufficiently to push her into a de facto coalition with the Supreme Court moderates?

Does Shea want to be the one people think of when the notion that choosing unnecessarily to  build a High Security High next to a big prison?  My bet is that she’s smarter than that.  But we’ll see — you can come to Irvine’s meeting tomorrow and find out.  Let’s rock!

P.S. If the Musick Jail is eventually going to become a seriously significant institution, it really needs a name that doesn’t sound like it’s a place to house Phil Spector and various drug-addled performers.  I think that the “DeVore Facility” sounds a lot scarier.


About Greg Diamond

Worker's rights attorney now moving into "good governance" litigation. North Vice Chair of Democratic Party of Orange County and occasional candidate. Proud to be prolix. Unless otherwise specifically stated, his writings never speak for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level. He tries to either suppress or openly acknowledge his partisan, issue, ideological, and "good government" biases in most of his writing here. If you have a question about any particular writing, just ask him about it and (unless you are an pseudonymous troll) he will probably answer you at painful length. He lives in Brea but generally doesn't blog about it. A family member works as a campaign treasurer for Wendy Gabriella in AD-73; he doesn't directly profit from that relatively small compensation and it doesn't affect his coverage. He does advise some campaigns informally and without compensation, although in 2014 he may receive some compensation for campaign consulting and fundraising for the campaign of Jorge Lopez for Orange County Assessor.