Stockton Record
November 18, 2009

By Scott Smith
Record Staff Writer
November 18, 2009 12:00 AM
STOCKTON – A coalition of local leaders followed through Tuesday on threats to take state prison officials to court after unveiling plans in recent weeks to build a 1,734-bed inmate medical center southeast of Stockton.

The Stockton Greater Chamber of Commerce, city of Stockton and San Joaquin County together filed the lawsuit asking a judge to block work on the first of three prisons until state officials respond in earnest to their worries.

Local leaders said the state didn’t respond earlier to worries about issues such as increased traffic and poor air quality. The state also assumed Stockton would provide water, and it didn’t consider the added draw on police and fire, the suit claims.

Prison Health Care receiver J. Clark Kelso, who is named in the court papers, said he was committed to working with local leaders toward resolving these problems.

“Instead, the county, city and Chamber of Commerce have decided to push forward with a lawsuit,” he said in a prepared statement. “I have confidence that the judicial process will reach the correct and just result.”

Kelso all along has sold the prison saying it promises to employ thousands of people, which will re-energize the housing market and stimulate the local economy. The prison will be the flagship inmate medical center in the state, he has said.

“It is unfortunate that this lawsuit will delay the significant job creation and economic recovery associated with this project,” Kelso said.

Days after Kelso approved plans to build the California Health Care Facility, Stockton, at the Karl Holton Youth Correctional Facility, top corrections officials announced early plans to convert DeWitt Youth Correctional Facility into a second medical center for 1,133 inmates.

A third prison project is also planned. A re-entry facility at the former women’s prison near Stockton would house 500 inmates. Tuesday’s litigation targets only the first facility, which is closest to being realized.

The state’s prison expansion comes in response to federal judges who threatened to release 40,000 inmates if officials don’t find ways to fix overpopulation and poor health care in the state prison system.

Local leaders worry that the three new prisons here would give San Joaquin County the highest concentration of state prisoners of any county in California, officials said in a news release.

To allay their concerns, local leaders say the state needs to pay $105 million one time and more than $25 million each year thereafter to head off impacts to sewer, water, police, fire, roads and hospital services.

Stockton attorney Steven Herum filed the 23-page lawsuit at San Joaquin County Superior Court. Local leaders are willing to put the litigation on hold temporarily and work with Kelso and state correctional officials.

The lawsuit comes out of caution local leaders say they have toward state prison officials who have not maintained open communication before springing the prisons on San Joaquin County.

“This litigation attempts to get the attention of the receiver and require him to deal with the serious problems that our community will face if he refuses to be a good member of our community,” Herum said.