Monday, October 26, 2009

Stockton needs to get behind the prison hospital.

I don't completely understand the local opposition to the prison hospital project for Stockton.

We have local leaders sending public money to entertainment venues, and then oppose a high-wage export industry (supplying health care to the state prison system). They want the public to subsidize higher-class entertainment, but are opposed to a higher paying job that might attract their doctor away. This is a very harsh statement towards some community leaders that I generally like and support, but I have to wonder about their motives here. Are they thinking about making Stockton a better place for everyone or just themselves?

We are in a cyclical construction depression that is going to last for a few more years until homebuilding picks up. This is a $1 billion construction project slated for 2010-2012. It's huge and perfectly timed. Once it opens, it will bring 2,500-3,000 jobs that pay much higher than the average wage in the region, and an annual payroll of nearly $300 million per year.

The concerns of the local chamber of commerce and some elected officials are that the prison hospital will attract health care workers from local hospitals, and exacerbate a shortage of doctors and health care workers in the San Joaquin Valley. In addition, there are concerns that the inmate population would attract families needing social services to the area.

Those concerns are valid, but I think they are small compared to the benefits, and we have several years to plan and address them. In this recession, there are thousands of people training for healthcare jobs right now because "experts" like me keep telling them that is where the future jobs are. With housing prices down and California amenities, we can attract that workforce to Stockton with jobs.

Stockton has thrown public money at restaurants, entertainment and minor league sports; enterprises that look nice but mostly create low wage jobs (or at worse, just move them around town shifting local entertainment spending from one neighborhood to another). We need to do more to create the income and employment base that demands those amenities, and to create a critical mass of higher education, higher income citizens that will make it easier to attract better jobs.

If we don't have the skilled workforce for the hospital now, then let's train them or recruit high education, high income folks to move here. Those who are only interested in low skills jobs shouldn't worry. The hospital will create plenty of burger flipper, janitorial, and laundry jobs too.

Update (10/30): I should add that I do understand why local leaders are upset that the only facilities the state seems to place in Stockton/San Joaquin County are prisons. For example, Stockton is the largest metropolitan area in California without a state university (and is probably the largest metro area in the U.S. without a public college or university, someone should check this). If the state had invested appropriately in education in the area, the skilled labor stress of this hospital on the region would be of little concern.


  1. Hi Jeff - you keep an awesome blog! I wanted to let you know about our next blogger meet-up at Tracy Virtual Office on November 11th at 6pm. There is going to be free food and it is a great chance to meet other local area bloggers. Hope to see you there!

  2. Hello Jeff - First I want to thank you for such a well presented discussion on the proposed Prison Hospital for San Joaquin County. I'd like to offer you a different perspective. The local government is not opposed to the Prison being built, but they are extremely concerned about how Clark Kelso, the federal receiver in charge of prisoner health care,steamrolled the prison with virtually no public scrutiny or input from local representatives. He has since apologized for dropping the ball in this fashion. He may have federal authority to build the prison, but the community is using the court of law to provide a voice on a deaf ear.From my understanding, Kelso has acquired a couple of hired guns in the form of Senator Mike Machado and Mr. John Garamendi Jr. to tell us why the prison is a good idea. This is being done for a small service fee, or course. Right now, Mr. Kelso has attempted to sweeten the pot for the community by offering concessions agreed to verbally, but nothing concrete. Our Mayor did a fantastic job by calling him out and asking him "How are we to trust you?".
    In addition, there is precedent for Kelso's dealings with local government in Ventura County.Check out Stephen Frank's blog from the Ventura County Star.It seems Mr. Kelso operates more like a dictator than a person living in a Democratic Society.
    As far as the economy is concerned, the County can use the money provided by job creation of course. However, this job creation is provided by Mr. Kelso's federal authority to raid the State Treasury, bypass local democratic scrutiny and due process, and threaten us with limited infrastructure if we don't play ball.

  3. John,

    Thanks for the comment. Trust is important, and I admit I don't know much about the political battles being waged here.

    I genuinely think that Machado and Garamendi believe this is good for the community, care about making it a better place, and are a bit more invested than hired guns. Having said that, it is a nice contract, and I now wish Mr. Kelso had hired me to do the economic impact report instead of my friends in Sacramento :)

    I think there are ways to increase the value of this project to Stockton and minimize it's cost. I am optimistic that the process is moving in a more positive direction now. But the community should remain wary, and the outcome may yet prove my optimism wrong.


  4. Jeff, I admire your optimism. I'm glad to know you are keeping an eye on the economic possibilities, I'll do the same socially ;)This is not the type of growth I envisioned for Stockton, nor is it one we should accept.

    Did other cities pass on the project because it wasn't suitable for their local economy?


  5. John,

    I don't think there was bidding among cities. I just think corrections had available land here and was looking to minimize their costs.