With a lawsuit pending against the state, a former state legislator from Linden and the son of Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, have been hired to tell the community why a large prison hospital would be good for the county.
Mike Machado, who represented much of San Joaquin County in the Assembly and State Senate in the 1990s and the current decade, and John Garamendi Jr., were hired for the lobbying positions. They began work on Monday.
Machado, Garamendi and three other members of the Ochoa & Moore law firm in Sacramento will try to convince people in San Joaquin County that the prison hospital would be an asset rather than a liability.
The five employees combined will be paid up to $400,000 for their services, according to Ralph Ochoa, founding partner of Ochoa & Moore, a Sacramento law firm conducting the public relations campaign. Neither Ochoa nor California Prison Health Care Services spokesman Luis Patino were sure on Monday whether taxpayer money was involved because California Prison Health Care Services is a nonprofit organization.
The public relations campaign will take place, even during a pending lawsuit. San Joaquin County, the city of Stockton and the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce sued the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and California Prison Health Care Services in an attempt to stop the project.
The three agencies claim that the environmental impact report on the project failed to adequately address several issues, including traffic, how the hospital would affect surrounding areas and other county services, and how it would affect air quality, according to Deputy County Counsel Mark Myles.
Ochoa said on Monday that when a lawsuit claiming an inadequate EIR is filed, all the judge will do is tell the defendant what needs to be done to make the EIR adequate. The project will still get done anyway, Ochoa said.
Myles said he doesn't see anything unusual about the lobbying effort while the lawsuit is pending.
"In any litigation, comments that are made by a party can be used in court," Myles said. "I don't know there is anything unique or peculiar here."
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 would 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.
Construction of the $1.1 billion project is expected to begin in 2010 and last two years, state officials said.
Machado and Garamendi bring established credibility to the effort to bring the hospital to southeast Stockton, Ochoa said.
Ochoa & Moore was hired by California Prison Health Care Receivership, a nonprofit organization formed as the result of a 2001 class-action lawsuit challenging the quality of medical care in state prisons. The receivership is autonomous from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the state itself, Ochoa said. Clark Kelso is the receiver for the health care organization.
"Despite misunderstandings, the receiver, Kelso, really is serious about bringing the facility to the area," Ochoa said. "The best way is to have a good relationship with the community."
The idea behind the PR campaign is to meet with as many of opinion makers and decision makers in Stockton and elsewhere in San Joaquin County, Ochoa said. The group will also contact local high schools, San Joaquin Delta College and four-year colleges about the construction, medical and other types of jobs that will be generated by the project, he said.
"We have to be sensitive to hiring locally," Ochoa said. "That's a big issue with the labor unions. We have to be good listeners."