Stockton Record
June 8, 2010

By Scott Smith
Record Staff Writer
June 08, 2010 12:00 AM
STOCKTON – Local leaders today are expected to approve the final details of a settlement resolving their lawsuit against state correctional officials and prison health care receiver J. Clark Kelso over construction of an inmate medical facility near Stockton.

In the deal, San Joaquin County stands to gain up to $1 million in sales taxes on construction equipment and supplies – even those purchased elsewhere. San Joaquin General Hospital will gain a $4 million Medical Guarded Unit.

And to make sure the planned California Health Care Facility, Stockton, doesn’t harm the surrounding community, the settlement calls for a citizens advisory committee to open communications between prison officials and local leaders.

While local leaders didn’t prevail on every point in settlement negotiations, Stockton attorney Steven Herum said it gives the community much more than it would have if the suit had never been filed.

“It’s more than any other community has ever gotten,” said Herum, adding that it is easy to say after the fact that they could have bargained for more. “It is a compromise.”

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation late last year announced plans to build the 1,722-bed prison for the state’s physically and mentally ill inmates. It will be on the site of the Karl Holton Youth Correctional Facility southeast of Stockton.

In response, the city, San Joaquin County and the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce filed the lawsuit seeking concessions from the state. After contentious settlement talks, the deal was tentatively approved in April.

But the terms of the settlement go before the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors and Stockton City Council today. Both boards will vote to give approval to a designated person with the authority to sign the agreement.

Chamber CEO Douglass Wilhoit said that one issue remaining is the fear that trained staff – medical technicians, nurses and doctors – might leave local hospitals for the state prison, which offers up to 30 percent higher pay.

Absent a written agreement, the lawsuit created a dialogue with San Joaquin Delta College over training medical staffers to work at the inmate medical facility, he said.

“It’s still there as a problem,” said Wilhoit, adding that overall he is pleased with the settlement. The county, city and Chamber worked in a partnership to take on the powerful California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

“We would have been bulldozed had we not come together,” Wilhoit said.

The settlement does, however, call for outreach to hiring local construction workers. After the facility is built, the state will attend local schools and job fairs and host application workshops to help local residents obtain the state jobs.

Stockton’s interim City Manager Kevin O’Rourke declined to comment on the settlement’s impact on the city because he first wanted to talk with the City Council tonight in its scheduled closed session. According to the settlement, the state will pay for water and sewer services that the city provides.

“I think we’re getting very close,” O’Rourke said. “We’re down to dotting the i’s and crossing t’s.”