The fact that a bill by state Senator Jeff Denham to sell San Quentin failed to move forward from the Senate Committee on Public Safety yesterday indicates a deeper problem than the state managing this one piece of property.

Over the years, the state has acquired property as if it were a real estate magnate building an empire. California should not be in the real estate business. It should just hold property related to its essential functions and manage that property wisely.

While a prison is an essential state function, San Quentin is an example of poor management of resources.

The 157-year old prison on San Francisco Bay that houses Death Row inmates is in need of repair and expansion. However, the prison sits on prime real estate with magnificent views of the bay. As an investor once told me, there is only so much California waterfront property and this chunk of land would bring a princely sum in the marketplace. Denham estimates the sales price as up to $2 billion.

Instead of taking the $400-million to expand the facility that has been committed by the state, the legislature should build a new larger, modern prison on cheaper land and allow the cash starved state to reap the benefits of selling off the property.

That was the goal of Denham’s bill. But like the three attempts to make such a move in the last four years, this bill ran into resistance that defies common sense.

Objections that the state must hold off on any bill that would add to California’s crowded prison problem, or that the city of Folsom does not want the added responsibility of dealing with protests that may come with potentially moving the condemned prisoners to Folsom State Prison, can easily be overcome. A plan to build a larger prison, not in Folsom, that gives more room for inmates solves all those problems, and the building costs can come out of the sale of the San Quentin property.

The complaint raised by the American Civil Liberties Union that moving the prisoners away from the Bay Area will deprive them of appropriate legal resources smacks more of a concern that ACLU lawyers would prefer living and working in the Bay Area than worry for the prisoners.

Still, the larger problem reflected in the committee’s non-action is that state lawmakers refuse to change their thinking about how the state manages its property and whether it should even hold onto surplus property.

There is potentially billions of dollars of state property that could be sold and taken out from under state stewardship. Another Denham bill, SB 30, calls for the Department of General Services to list property valued at a billion dollars or more that can be sold to help balance the state budget.

The California Performance Review called for the selling of surplus state property, declaring, “The State of California owns millions of acres of real estate, plus more than 22,000 structures. It owns golf courses. It owns a stadium. It owns fairgrounds across the state, some located on patches of the state’s choicest land.”

Yet, the action yesterday in the Senate Committee on Public Safety indicates legislators continue to twiddle their thumbs rather than take some common sense action.

I highlighted the San Quentin situation in a satirical way on Fox and Hounds Daily last June with a piece in the Corner Spot titled San Quentin Park.