May 14, 2009 in Nation/World

California may sell prison, L.A. Coliseum

Proposal considered to ‘unlock’ equity
Michael Rothfeld Los Angeles Times

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to sell Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, San Quentin State Prison, the Orange County Fairgrounds and other state property to raise cash amid the state’s growing fiscal crisis, according to a copy of a proposal reviewed by the Los Angeles Times.

Sale of the properties, to be included in the governor’s revised budget plan today, would raise between $600 million and $1 billion, although it would not provide financial relief for two to five years, according to the proposal.

“There are thousands of buildings and land parcels throughout California that represent billions of dollars of equity,” the plan says. “California’s current fiscal crisis has prompted new ways of thinking about how the state can unlock some of this value.”

Other items on the list for potential disposal include Cal Expo, site of the state fair in Sacramento; the Del Mar Fairground; the Cow Palace, a nearly 70-year-old exhibition hall in Daly City, bordering San Francisco; and the Ventura County Fairgrounds.

It is not clear whether lawmakers would be willing to part with the real estate the governor has identified.

Proposals to sell San Quentin and the Coliseum have not advanced in the Legislature in recent weeks.

And many other questions remain unanswered, including where the state would put death row, even as it is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build new housing for condemned inmates at San Quentin, which sits on a stunning Marin County waterfront property, or how much a new prison would cost.

Administration officials said that almost all the plans would require cooperation from lawmakers, either to approve the sales or make changes to state law to address how the state should handle the proceeds.

One official, who requested anonymity because the governor had not yet announced the plan, said lawmakers who expressed opposition to such property sales in the past might be more willing to compromise now.

The state faces a deficit projected at $15.4 billion – more, if voters reject a slate of ballot measures on Tuesday.

“It’s different times,” the official said. “The choices aren’t great, obviously.”

Schwarzenegger’s proposal would also raise up to $660 million by selling 11 large state office buildings and leasing them back.

It is the kind of mechanism used by commercial property owners to free up cash, the governor’s plan says; in some deals, the original owner would receive the site back after a period of time such as 25 years.

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