County Balks at Moving Youth Jail

Juvenile delinquents may end up spoiling plans to build a major biotech park next to County-USC Medical Center in Boyle Heights.

A draft feasibility study on the proposed park, commissioned by USC and obtained by the Business Journal, concluded the site would need to be at least 100 acres to create the type of low-rise campus favored by researchers and companies. But for that to happen, the county's Central Juvenile Hall complex now situated right in the middle of the envisioned project site would have to be moved.

A separate L.A. County draft feasibility study, also obtained by the Business Journal, concluded that the estimated $200 million it would cost to move that jail complex is not feasible, given county budget constraints. Instead, a 30-acre park with high-rise buildings could be successful, the county study found.

It also details the possibility of a 60-acre park, but that would be separated into two parcels, with the juvenile hall sandwiched between them. Both proposals call for the park to be built on what is largely surplus or under-utilized county land.

County Chief Administrative Officer David Janssen, who is overseeing planning for the proposed joint development, said the energy crisis and slowing economy are draining state coffers, so there is simply no local, state or federal money available for relocating the juvenile hall. It's a far different atmosphere than when planning for the park started last fall.

"Clearly, the whole concept of a biotech park is a great concept. The area needs it. But if the only way to do it is in 100 acres, then there is a problem," Janssen said. "The county can't afford, nor do we have a place, to move juvenile hall."

Senior USC officials are currently in discussions with Janssen to try to come to some agreement before supervisors begin publicly weighing in on the proposal. (Supervisor Gloria Molina, who represents the area and sought the feasibility study out of fear the area may be falling behind in the race to build its biotech industry, deferred comment to Janssen.)

Supporters of USC's vision for a suburban-style campus said anything less than the full 100 acres wouldn't work, especially given that the larger 60-acre park outlined by the county's study would be split by the juvenile facility.

Billionaire businessman Eli Broad, who sits on the board of overseers of USC's Keck School of Medicine, is heading a subcommittee in charge of the project. He said that in order to attract companies to the park, given its location in a gritty urban area, it would have to be large, self-contained, well landscaped and attractive.

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