Parties ponder how to move CCC case forward; judge says CDCR’s decision to close CCC is not discretionary

Visiting Superior Court Judge Robert F. Moody and attorneys from the city of Susanville and the California Attorney General’s Office met via Zoom at the Lassen County Hall of Justice Thursday, May 26 to sort out the best way to move the case forward regarding the closure of the California Correctional Center.

Last year the city filed a motion for a writ of mandate asking the court to require the state to comply with the law in its efforts to close the local prison. According to the city, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation did not follow the law when it made the decision to close CCC, and Lassen County Superior Court Judge Mark Nareau later ordered the state not take any further action in closing the prison until the legal compliance questions had been answered.

Ian light of the recent Appeals Court decision, the parties and the judge discussed how the city and the state would pay for the services a referee, sometimes referred to as special master, should Moody appoint one. The state attorneys argued the cost should be split equally between the state and the city of Susanville, and that arrangement could be modified at the end of the trial if necessary. Moody pointed out the court is required to consider a party’s ability to pay — noting that the California Attorney General Office’s budget is 700 or 800 times larger than the city’s budget. The state argued the city could pay $50,000 for the special master’s services.

Moody said he would not be appointing a special master today, but the referee is necessary because he’s trying to avoid a “quagmire” of documents in the administrative record.

Moody said the city has the burden of providing an administrative record showing the state did not comply with direction from the state legislature in determining its decision to close CCC. Moody said the state is required to provide that information, and a special master could help prepare that record for the court.

Attorneys from the state argued they have already complied with the state legislature’s requirements in determining to close CCC, but Moody disagreed. He said the legislature ordered the closure of two prisons, but with very specific direction as to how to make that decision.

According to California Penal Code Section 5003.7, “In identifying prisons for closure, the department shall consider the following criteria: (a) The department shall prioritize closure of prisons with relatively high operational costs or costly infrastructure needs compared to inmate capacity, flexible housing assignment capacity, and long-term operational value. (b) The department shall consider the cost of rebuilding the capital investments that have already been made in the prison at other prisons, to the extent that those capital investments would need to be rebuilt at other prisons should the prison in question be closed.”

“The legislature issued an order to you that’s so specific it only applies to this case,” Moody said.

He said given this direction from the legislature, CDCR’s decision about which prisons to close is not discretionary. He said the state would be required to provide information on how it arrived at the decision to close CCC.

The city contends if CDCR follows this order from the state legislature, several other state prisons should be closed before CCC.

Another of the legal requirements of closing CCC is a California Environmental Quality Assurance Act review. State attorneys argued that process has already begun, but Moody noted the state began that review after the city asked for the writ of mandate. He also said economic devastation to the city of Susanville and Lassen County is one of the impacts CEQA would be reviewing.

State attorneys suggested they should meet with the city’s attorneys informally during the next 30 to 65 days to “have a conversation” and attempt to resolve some of these issues before the case comes back before the court.

Moody said he would schedule another court date soon, but that date was not revealed during the public portion of the proceeding.