Does The California Penal System Have Their Budget Under Lock and Key?
It was December of last year when we came up with a story about the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) gate in Sacramento, California. It became incumbent upon us at NewsBlaze to write about this story because of the budget crisis the State of California is facing. We were concerned that a huge chunk of money was spent on a gate when funds were needed elsewhere.
We received a video showing the size and scope of the two fences and gates, as well as no security at the compound and no homeless people around. People could come and go as opposed to an unofficial statement that one of the primary reasons why the gate was built was that it would prevent the homeless from begging alms from CDCR employees.
Our attention was called. CDCR officials emailed our publisher and told him that we should have verified our story. In some sense, it felt like a jab. Our profession was called into question because it was implied we’re not doing enough investigation. So we did.
We called the CDCR office and we were tossed from end to end. We were able to get hold of Mr. Paul Verke, Spokesperson of CDCR’s Office of Public and Employee Communications. Prior to speaking with Mr. Verke, we had the chance to exchange correspondence with Mrs. Terry Thornton, CDCR’s Deputy Press Secretary. In the correspondence, she advised us to speak with Mr. Verke and told us that our interest in the story was already referred to him. When we spoke with Mr. Verke over the phone, he said that he wasn’t familiar with the referral and that he’d look into the matter before he gives us his comments. In other words, we weren’t able to interview him.
It’s not really a big deal for us. It’s part of our job. But duty calls that we need to be persistent. And as a matter of courtesy, we asked Mr. Verke during our brief phone conversation, if we can send him the questions concerning the gate. He said it was OK and that he would look at the questions and have some of his staff go over them. So, we sent the questions by email.
It took almost a week before we got our response. It was alright with us if the responses to our questions took only a matter of days because we’re also considering the time CDCR officials’ work responsibilities demand. However, on the many occasions we tried to get the response by correspondence, our email bounced. We emailed them four consecutive times in one day as we are determined to straighten our facts and get our story out. Four times there were mail system delivery failures. We, from our end, tried our best not to feel conspiratorial about it, that somehow we were being avoided, and we didn’t. We brought this matter to our publisher who emailed CDCR. In just a span of two hours, we received the responses to our questions.
We thought all will be well, but the answers to our questions were very short and a great portion of our questionnaire remained unanswered.
To be fair with CDCR, they claim that the fence only cost US$30,000.00 as opposed to the US$1 million we thought. They said it was compliance on their part and that the atrium gates were a requirement by the California State Fire Marshal as the previous gates did not meet the standard code. The security system, according to CDCR, was replaced because the previous system was failing.
We asked them about so many other things that we thought were worth asking. Things like who ran the project to request the security system, what was involved in the upgrading of the security system, how long discussions took before the project pushed through. They tried to answer the questions, also.
They said it was CDCR and the Department of General Services who requested the security system; that system upgrades involved replacing mother boards, panels and upgrading the software. They also said it took two years to discuss this project before it pushed through.
They also said that this all has been planned since Fall of 2009. That all this was for enhancing the property’s security and upgrading work areas. It’s all about efficiency. But this still begs the question: Why now when the State is having a budget crisis?
Let’s go back to our initial estimate of US$1 million dollar worth of CDCR expenses.
The cost of the gates, CDCR says, was only US$30,000.00. Huh? If it were an off-the-shelf item, we would buy that price. The problem is it’s not. When we said it costs the State of California and Californians US$1 million in taxes, we were referring to the process and activities it took CDCR to build those gates and those improvements that come with them.
Here’s some food for thought. When you’re trying to understand something in the absence of information, the human brain starts to look for patterns, checks out regularities, and make sense out of that something. This especially holds true when public servants such as CDCR officials who are required by public trust to be transparent fail to live up to calls of integrity.
We made an estimate. An estimate was made, based on many things, such as meetings over a couple of years, multiple site inspections, approvals, measurements, plans, construction, electronics and wiring, installation, maintenance, staffing, and rent loading to name a few. When a public institution operates in secrecy, there is no way to get information like that. The only way open is to create a list of expenses, make estimates and add them together.
We also tried to contact Hines Real Estate Trust, the owner of the property, for comments. The person who answered our call was very polite, but told us he could not comment about this issue. Instead, he gave us the contact number of their senior vice-president who is located in Houston, Texas. We tried contacting the number, but only a cold answering machine was there to greet us.
CDCR is sticking to their story that the two massive fences and gates cost a total of $30,000 and it had no effect on their rent and there were no additional expenses. We don’t believe their story at all, but it seems we’re up against an immovable fence with locked gates, which is more than the physical gates, which are wide open.
This is so in tune with the start of the Super Bowl. There’s so much footballing going on.