Stockton Record
June 9, 2010

By Michael Fitzgerald
Metro Columnist
June 09, 2010 12:40 AM

If there’s a bully in California government, it is the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The CDCR likes to pick on Stockton by dumping prison facilities here.

Unfair? Costly to you? San Joaquin County groans with three prisons already? Too bad. We’re opening three more: a re-entry facility and two prison hospitals.
That’s how the CDCR operates. CDCR is the unjust agent of a dysfunctional state that runs roughshod over poorer and politically weak communities.

On the blog
To view the agreement the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce, City of Stockton and San Joaquin County reached with the state Department of Corrections go here.

This time, there was a second player: a court-appointed federal prison hospital receiver. For J. Clark Kelso, too, Stockton’s needs were an afterthought.

The unfairness was not limited to opening new facilities here, and none in Southern California, though that region produces the most prisoners.

They expected free water for their facilities – paid for by Stockton taxpayers. Free sewer. To soften a range of jarring impacts, they offered chicken feed.

But a funny thing happened to their steamroller on the way to San Joaquin.

The Chamber of Commerce, led by CEO Douglass Wilhoit, filed suit to challenge the grossly inadequate remedies proposed in the Environmental Impact Report.
Chamber board members paid for the suit’s filing fees out of their own pocket. The Chamber showed leadership and courage. The city owes them a debt of gratitude.

The City of Stockton and County of San Joaquin joined the suit. Our leaders, following. But they got in there and fought.
The plaintiffs hired attorney Steve Herum. Fans of smart growth and grass-roots democracy demonize Herum. He helps developers sprawl and wield inordinate influence.

Judging from his successes, though, he’s mercilessly effective. To the CDCR lawyers and the receiver, expecting a pushover, it must have seemed like Darth Vader entered the room.

Guided by the plaintiffs, Herum bargained with a phalanx of state lawyers, emerging from exceedingly complex negotiations with a pretty fair deal for Stockton and San Joaquin County.

Not perfect, but pretty fair. A compromise. An unprecedented deal with numerous benefits the aloof CDCR and receiver had no intention of offering.

» The CDCR will hire locally.

» They will chip in $4 million to build a secure ward at San Joaquin General Hospital, and pay for prisoners’ treatment, a boost for county general.

» The sales tax from anything bought by a contractor anywhere in the state will go to San Joaquin County.

» A citizen’s committee will watchdog the facilities. In perpetuity.

» They’ll pay the going rate for water and sewer, thank you; build their 7-figure water main at their expense; pay multimillion-dollar traffic impact fees; reimburse the coroner for services; pay Herum’s attorney fees; and give the city and county upwards of $1.4 million just because we’re special.

Now for the two big benefits absent from the deal.

» Establishing or beefing up programs at local educational institutions to credential health care professionals – a big plum touted by former state senator Mike Machado – didn’t happen.

Why? Short answer: because the educational institutions weren’t a party to the suit. Perhaps they counted on the good faith of CDCR and receiver. Now they know better.

» The settlement does not address the wage imbalance of prison health professionals and guards. They will be paid up to 30 percent more.

That may cause a stampede of jail guards, doctors, nurses, psych techs and others out of their current employers for bigger paychecks. We’ll see.
Sen. Lois Wolk also supposedly stood up for this area in negotiations.

So, Stockton still ends up with a 1.2 million-square-foot sub acute medical and mental health care facility for 1,734 sick crooks, including maximum security cons and mentally disordered sex offenders.

Also a second mental health facility and a re-entry facility.

But it came away with three plusses.

First, all benefits mentioned above, and more.

Second, self-respect. “It was my impression in dealing with these corrections folks … they really see Stockton as Arkansas,” said Herum. “I think they’re going to treat us with a lot more respect and treat us more like a partner going into the future.”

That’s important because (third) with juvenile offender populations in decline statewide, the O.H. Close facility outside Stockton may close.

The predictable state may eye it as yet another prison. Stockton now knows how to demand a tolerably fair deal.