Some suggest San Quentin land is ripe for development

MARIN COUNTY, Calif. (KTVU) -- There are few pieces of Bay Area real estate with a more spectacular location than San Quentin State Prison, a fact that leaves many residents wondering why California houses its death row penitentiary on such a valuable piece of property.

San Quentin opened in July of 1852, and in one part of the building, the prison is showing its age.

"It's fairly old," said Correctional Plant Manager Andy Crump. "The boilers are somewhere in the '60s or so."

San Quentin's boiler house is not in compliance with Bay Area Air Quality Management District emissions regulations. Because of that, the California Department of Corrections says it plans to demolish it and rebuild the boiler house at an estimated cost of $18 million.

The millions of dollars needed to tear the boiler house down and rebuild is a clear-cut reminder -- at least to one man tapped into the real estate market here -- that the debate on whether or not San Quentin should stay or go it needs to be re-ignited.

Stephen Roulac is a global property strategist based in Marin County. He says the hot Bay Area real estate market could trigger a worldwide bidding war for the prime piece of southern Marin waterfront property.

"Potentially, the land could go for at least a billion, approaching two billion dollars," said Roulac.

Roulac envisions new homes, retail areas, parks and more as being part of the development.

"Instead of it being a deficit, a negative drain, San Quentin could be a revenue generator for the state," explained Roulac. "You'd be getting property tax revenue, sales tax revenue, and it would attract new business and activity and generate income tax revenue."

As a state senator, Congressman Jeff Denham tells KTVU he authored two bills to sell San Quentin a decade ago. The bills never made it out of committee.

"Part of the challenge is this is the most expensive prison in the country to run," said Denham. "It's old, dilapidated."

Today, he still says the state needs to sell.

"This is one of those cases where it's such a high value piece of property, inmates can be housed in a less expensive place in the state And you could put a new facility in for a fraction of the cost of what that property value is worth and it would be a state-of-the-art prison," said Denham.

In 2001, the State Department of General Services looked at a potential sale of San Quentin. It found that relocating the inmates to two new facilities would cost $695 million.

14 years later, that price could be more.

"With a new facility you could get state-of-the-art resources, recreation opportunities, cultural opportunities that that prison can't deliver," said Roulac.

KTVU spoke with three San Quentin inmates incarcerated for three different crimes about the idea. All three were united when it comes to the benefits of the prison's current location.

San Quentin is not just close to the courts they say, but also close to hundreds of tech companies who send volunteers to the prison to teach valuable job skills.

"Coding program [are] teaching me computer skills, web development," said inmate Jason Jones. "I just got certified as a junior developer."

"Being in the Bay Area, people are more progressive in their thinking about crime punishment and rehabilitation then they are in other areas, so we get a lot of people coming into the prison focused on supporting us," added inmate Lonnie Morris.

"I spent five years in Corcoran, which is in the middle of nowhere, near Fresno, and you don't see anybody out there except nurses officers or administrative workers," explained inmate Adnan Khan.

The Governor's office wouldn't comment on the idea, referring KTVU to the Department of Corrections.

A spokeswoman for the CDCR said, "There are no plans to sell the property."

KTVU also checked with residents in the area to see what they thought of developing the land where San Quentin is located.

"As long as its not houses, condos, or office buildings," said Monda Oewel of Tiburon. "Now that I wouldn't agree with."

A similar theme emerged among many of the Marin County residents KTVU spoke to about the subject.

"The bottom line is I'm against more housing in the Bay Area," said Tiburon's Melinda Triplett. "Leave it as is."

432 acres along the Bay, close to the ferry, close to the Golden Gate Bridge and home to death row.

Tempting for those looking to buy, but as of now, it does not appear the owner wants to sell.