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San quentinCalifornia’s notorious ‘death row’ was built before the Civil War on a site surrounded by deep water and marshes to deter dreams of escape into neighboring San Francisco.
But today, the 450-acre site is viewed by some as Northern California’s hottest property – with a value as high as $2 billion.
Selling off what is now prime waterfront and moving death row inmates inland to a new prison facility is not a novel thought. In fact, in the 1970’s, then Governor Reagan courted investors interested in developing this slice of paradise, and councilmen in the 1980’s renewed the charge that San Quentin’s stunning vistas were better suited for developments designed for those who were free to enjoy them.
But pressure from both prisoner advocates and the economic realities of building a new maximum security prison in another developed community like Sacramento has so far proven too formidable for plans to go forward.
With California in a deep recession, the idea is once again on the table, and is gaining momentum. The timing also is favorable, as California weighs the cost of another costly upgrade to San Quentin to alleviate the overcrowding from death row inmates who are housed for years while exhausting their rights to appeal in the nearby courts — inmates who reportedly are more likely to die from natural causes than their death sentences.
Legislators are encouraging Gov. Schwarzenegger to forego another remodel on San Quentin’s historic buildings in favor of selling the property, putting much needed dollars in the states coffers. Ideas for development include offering affordable housing, perhaps in what is now prison employee housing, a ferry hub, or luxury waterfront condos.

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