Earlier today, we quoted William Voegeli’s comparison of California and Texas in the L.A. Times, which featured this quote from Joel Kotkin:
“Twenty years ago, you could go to Texas, where they had very low taxes, and you would see the difference between there and California. Today, you go to Texas, the roads are no worse, the public schools are not great but are better than or equal to ours, and their universities are good. The bargain between California’s government and the middle class is constantly being renegotiated to the disadvantage of the middle class.”
Hot on its heels comes this item from the Website of the Bay Area’s CBS-13 channel:
California is drowning in red ink. With thousands of state workers facing furloughs, California is spending your money to send dozens of Caltrans workers, and lot of heavy equipment, to a luxury hotel resort in the desert for a convention.
Welcome to paradise in Palm Desert, where last week California taxpayers paid for 52 Caltrans workers to attend a four day national convention of state highway planners at a luxury hotel called Desert Springs Resort, owned by Marriot. This high-end resort is filled with luxury rooms. It has exotic birds and gondola rides on a manmade lagoon where boats cruise from inside the expansive lobby to the sunshine outside. There is also a pristine golf course.
A CBS13 producer and photographer went undercover to this posh resort to follow the money. We saw Caltrans workers setting up booths for the conference. We spotted Caltrans Director Randell Iwasaki on a computer for an hour at the hotel’s internet café, and later meeting and greeting other transportation officials.
Not only did taxpayers pay for the meetings, meals, luxury rooms and travel expenses for 52 Caltrans worker’s here, they also paid for thousands more in gas to bring in this artillery of heavy equipment that Caltrans rolled out for the convention, including a mobile transportation management center and a satellite truck to show delegates from other states.
We counted 19 Caltrans vehicles at the resort, some of them driven to Palm Desert from as far away as Marysville and Sacramento. And we spotted at least four shuttle vans. Delegates from around the country were escorted in these vans, free of charge, all around the Palm Desert area. And Caltrans workers were serving as chauffeurs’ instead of fixing freeways or building bridges. How much is all of this costing California taxpayers?
“The final numbers aren’t in yet, but it’s gonna cost somewhere around $20, 000,” says Randell Iwasaki, Director of Caltrans.
Actually it’s more than that, the hotels fees alone were nearly $18,000, according to Caltrans own records. Plus, another $6600 in conference fees and $3800 more in air fare and car rentals for Caltrans workers so far. It adds up to $28,477 in preliminary costs, and that doesn’t include food or other expenses. So, the final price tag will certainly be higher.
“These are the kinds of things that really frustrate taxpayers and cause a great deal of outrage to see money wasted in this fashion,” says Jon Coupal, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.
Even more outrageous for taxpayers, Caltrans officials appear to have broken their own rules by attending a conference at this resort. In a memo obtained by CBS13, former Caltrans Director Will Kempton says travel must be ” confined to mission-critical functions”…and that Caltrans employees should be “avoiding meetings that are scheduled in resort locations.”
“Well I think what Will meant when he said this was where you can avoid going to resorts, you should do that,” Iwasaki said in response to the memo.
Not only does it appear Caltrans officials violated their own travel policy, their trip to this paradise in Palm Desert goes against orders issued by Governor Schwarzenegger. In the travel ban, handed down by the Governor, he ordered “state agencies and departments to cancel or postpone any non-essential trips, such as seminars, conferences or training.” And the governor issued that order more than once. On at least three different occasions, December 2003, February 2008 and April 2009, governor Schwarzenegger issued orders banning all non-essential travel by state workers. But despite that order, the governor’s office approved this trip.
“We have a ban on all non-essential travel. So very rarely do we approve any kind of travel like this. This was an exception,” says Aaron McLear, Governor’s Press Secretary.
They made an exception, they say, because they hoped by sending 52 Caltrans employees to this Palm Desert resort conference, that will lead to more money for California roads. You see, federal transportation officials were there also. If Caltrans officials meet federal transportation officials face to face, maybe they could convince the feds to gifor California roads. You see, federal transportation officials were there also. If Caltrans officials meet federal transportation officials face to face, maybe they could convince the feds to give more money to California road projects. At least that’s the plan.
Caltrans officials are confident the conference at this posh resort in Palm Desert will give them a good chance at getting tens of millions of dollars from the federal government.
“Was this a good investment? I think it was. I think ultimately Caltrans and California will be better positioned for the next surface transportation bill,” says Iwasaki. ls meet federal transportation officials face to face, maybe they could convince the feds to give more money to California road projects. At least that’s the plan.
Back in August, Joel Kotkin and Bill Watkins noted:
California’s inability to plan or create new public infrastructure affects every part of the state’s economy. California was once a leader in building infrastructure, but that was in Pat Brown’s gubernatorial administration in the 1960s when California last planned a major infrastructure project.
And that was long before this key Golden State tipping point was reached.
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