(SAN QUENTIN, Calif.) -- San Quentin State Prison's death row will soon be getting a controversial upgrade.
California State officials justified the $356 million project to renovate the state's notorious death row by pointing out the security and safety flaws on three housing blocks constructed in the 1920s, 1930s and 1960s, which house such high-profile murderers as Drew Peterson, Richard Ramirez and Cary Stayner.
However, local and state officials questioned Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's commitment to pay a $64.7 million down payment out of the cash-strapped state's general fund, at a time when funding is being reduced or withheld from schools and state workers have been forced through a summer of furlough days.
"It is the poster child for this administration's failure to prioritize in tough times," state Assemblyman Jared Huffman, R-San Rafael, said. He added "It's the most expensive prison cell space on the planet."
Huffman is one of two state legislators to file a legal challenge to Schwarzenegger's use of veto power to excise from the budget language that would have called for studies and resolutions of the state's well-known prison overcrowding problem.
A decision is expected in November, but bids are scheduled to be opened on the project on Tuesday.
H.D. Palmer, the state's deputy finance director, said that the death row is in dire need of immediate attention and that because the state's penal code dictates executions be done at San Quentin, they cannot even consider moving death row elsewhere.
"Given the safety issues and the structural issues that are involved here, and given the fact that capital punishment is still the law of the land here … this facility needs to go forward," Palmer said.
On the East Block, there is only one line of perimeter security between the cells and the San Francisco Bay. It is a 12-foot masonry wall topped with razor wire. The state, which has questioned the current structure's ability to contain prisoners during an earthquake, plans to construct a double wall with an electrified fence in between.
However many in the area aren't buying this project as a state necessity. The Larkspur City Council, whose town sits adjacent to San Quentin, voted -- at Huffman's request -- to send a letter to Schwarzenegger opposing the expansion.
The project is to be completed in two phases and is scheduled for completion in 2013.
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