Stockton Record
August 2, 2010

August 02, 2010 12:01 AM
They’ll gather today to put a little mutual ink to paper, smile for the cameras and declare in unison that all’s well that ends well.

It will be a contrast to more than a year of bitter tugs-of-war.

Today will be the unofficial ribbon cutting, if you will, for Stockton and San Joaquin County to put another notch on their holster of prison facilities.

A 1,722-bed prison hospital for the state’s physically and mentally ill inmates will be built on the site of the Karl Holton Youth Correctional Facility, southeast of Stockton.

Business leaders who balked at the concept and its potential negative impacts on the community will host the ceremony. The signing takes place at 2 p.m. at the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce

Chamber CEO Douglass Wilhoit, once the loudest critic of plans to locate “yet another” prison facility here, will play gracious host to, among others, federal receiver J. Clark Kelso. He was given a daunting, court-ordered edict to improve health care for prisoners – and chose our community as the epicenter of his efforts.

Elected leaders – the mayor, council members, supervisors – and others will likely pledge to move forward, hoping the positives will outweigh the negatives.

We hope so. We needs jobs, high-paying jobs, and a prison hospital – plus an adult prisoner re-entry facility – will create plenty.

Those involved in the protracted dispute deserve credit for persevering. They made the best of an ill-matched courtship involving parties that essentially had to get married.

The chamber, elected officials, lawyers and others exhibited gumption and teamwork in trying to exact the best deal possible for the city and county.

Kelso, the prison health care receiver, and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation were at times made out to be – ironically – the “bad guys” in very public negotiations. It should be noted, however, that they really didn’t have to cater to any of the local demands.

As part of the negotiated deal, San Joaquin County could get up to $1 million in sales taxes on construction equipment supplies (even if they are purchased elsewhere). San Joaquin General Hospital gets a $4 million Medical Guarded Unit.

There will be a citizens advisory committee to monitor the impact the California Health Care Facility has on the community – its schools, roads, quality of life, etc.

“It’s more than any other community has ever gotten,” attorney Steve Herum, who led the joint chamber-city-county legal action against the facility, told The Record last month.

Many of the initial concerns remain.

Will the high-paying facility siphon health care professionals from other hospitals and agencies? Will the complex near Highway 99 become a prototypical “work here, live there” situation, with employees spending their locally earned wages elsewhere? What sort of unforeseen impacts will the facilities have on the area?

Conversely, there could be a large positive impact on the local economy.

Let’s all hope for the best for our community.