July 31, 2008

Sell San Quentin!

There’s a proposal that the state sell off some of its more valuable real estate holdings to make up for the budget shortfall. For instance, San Quentin State Prison is 275 acres of waterfront land on the north side of San Francisco Bay. If there weren’t a prison on it, it would be luscious and intensely valuable land. Even with the structures there, the sorts of people who consider such things consider the land to be worth north of $100,000,000.

I disagree with the idea. This year’s state budget deficit is projected to be more than fifteen billion (with a “b”) dollars. $15.2 billion, to be exact. Were the state to get full value for San Quentin, that would drop this year’s budget deficit down to $15.1 billion. And we’d be out a prison, the only one in the state equipped to perform executions. Every prison in the state is already overcrowded. Or would the purchaser operate it as a “private” prison? I’m leery of the idea of “private” prisons, which make money by using the inmates as a labor force to produce consumer products – this is, literally, slave labor and while I realize these are convicted criminals we’re talking about and the Constitution permits that sort of thing as punishment for a crime, it still feels wrong to me. Making road signs and license plates? That’s something seems different, somehow.

Selling San Quentin would also mean we’d need to relocate the thousands of prisoners incarcerated there. No room anywhere else.

And once we (“we” being the state) sell off an asset like that, it’s just plain gone. We can never get it back; we’d never be able to afford to repurchase property like 275 acres right on the Bay.

No, we’re going to have to make up the shortfall with budget cuts. Period. It’s going to suck. But the only other alternative would be to raise taxes significantly.

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