Stockton Record
November 11, 2008

By Scott Smith

November 11, 2008

Record Staff Writer

STOCKTON – Business leaders in San Joaquin County have hired an attorney to step up their fight against a federally appointed receiver who wants to build a large medical center for state prisoners near Stockton.

Douglass Wilhoit, CEO of the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce, said Monday that he tapped noted Stockton land-use attorney Steve Herum to oppose the 1,800-bed facility where a shuttered youth prison now stands.

This marks the first time in recent memory the chamber has hired an attorney in such a case, said Wilhoit, who added his doubts that anything it does will stop the charge of health care receiver J. Clark Kelso.

“They do what they want to do,” Wilhoit said. “They don’t care about the community.”

Kelso’s representatives visited Stockton on Monday to take feedback on a draft report describing how the project will impact local agriculture, traffic, air quality and noise. About three dozen local leaders and residents attended the environmental impact report hearing.

Kelso was appointed by U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson of San Francisco to bring the state prisons’ health care system up to constitutional standards.

At a cost of $8 billion, Kelso wants to build seven medical centers throughout California for 10,000 mentally and physically ill prisoners. The first medical center, which will be surrounded by a lethal, electrified fence, is planned for Stockton.

Local leaders, including Wilhoit, fear the large medical center will syphon skilled medical workers away from local hospitals for higher-paying jobs at the state-run medical center. Wilhoit said the environmental impact report does little to allay his worries.

“It was written in the land of Oz by a bunch of Munchkins,” Wilhoit said. “They’re more interested in talking about animals electrocuting themselves in that fence than the surrounding community.”

Kelso plans to raze the vacant Karl Holton Youth Correctional Drug and Alcohol Treatment Facility and start building the medical center. A federal appeals court last week temporarily delayed the Stockton project, which was to begin in February.

San Joaquin County Sheriff Steve Moore fears he will have an even more difficult time recruiting correctional officers to work in his jail and the state prisoner facility will drain his resources. Every time an inmate dies, his office has to investigate, he said.

“They don’t address any issue we raised,” Moore said of the recent report. “No, none of my fears have been allayed at all.”