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San Joaquin County sues state over prison hospital planned for Stockton

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Posted: Wednesday, November 4, 2009 12:00 am

The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors, Stockton City Council and Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce have voted to sue two state agencies over a hospital for prison inmates planned for south Stockton.

The prison hospital, for medical and mental health patients, is designed for 1,734 beds and 3,000 employees at Arch and Austin Roads, about two miles east of Highway 99. The hospital is expected to have 75 to 100 people visiting inmates daily. It will have a 12-foot-high electrical fence to secure the area along with 11 45-foot-high guard towers every 700 feet, according to the state.

State officials announced their plans to build the hospital on state-owned property in Stockton on Oct. 20. Construction of the $1.1 billion project is expected to begin in 2010 and last two years.

The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday morning to sue the state, and the Stockton City Council voted that afternoon to sue.

The county claims that two agencies — the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and California Prison Health Care Services — failed to adequately address several issues in its environmental impact report, according to Deputy County Counsel Mark Myles.

"The question is whether or not the state of California and the California Prison and Health Care Services have sufficiently complied with (the California Environmental Quality Act)," Myles said. "That's the issue."

The EIR does not address topics like traffic, how the hospital would affect surrounding areas and other county services, and how it would affect air quality, Myles said.

"It's a broad perspective," he added.

Luis Patino Jr., spokesman for California Prison Health Care Services, said in a written statement that the economically depressed county would get a jump-start on needed jobs.

"The people of the Central Valley need jobs, not more lawsuits," Patino said. "The project can pump hundreds of millions of dollars worth of jobs and economic activity into the Stockton area, both during construction beginning in 2010 and for many years thereafter. Lawsuits will only delay needed relief from the recession."

The Stockton hospital is one of up to seven prison hospitals planned throughout California, with 5,000 beds to be available for medical patients and another 5,000 for mental health patients, according to the EIR.

State officials are ready to work with elected local elected officials and business leaders about their concerns, Patino said. The lawsuits are bound to interfere with productive dialogue, he added.

The 144.2-acre site includes about 70 acres designated as "important farmland," which state officials consider to be "a significant and unavoidable impact," according to the EIR.

The report says that there will be significant environmental impacts, but they are in conjunction to major growth planned in Stockton. The hospital, along with planned residential growth, will have significant effects on traffic, air quality, possible climate change caused by greenhouse gases, increase in demand for local hospital services resulting in decreased service and increased waiting time, according to the EIR.

The document also reports that the hospital would adversely effect local businesses, property values, urban decay and potential shortages in qualified employees to work at the prison hospital and existing county medical centers.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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