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A former state senator and the son of newly elected Rep. John Garamendi have been hired by the federal prison health care receiver to build support for a proposed facility in San Joaquin County.

Former Sen. Mike Machado, D-Linden, and John Garamendi, Jr. are part of a contract Receiver Clark Kelso inked with the Ochoa & Moore law firm. The contract, which involves five employees at the firm, is capped at $400,000. Machado said he was making $300 an hour. Garamendi's father, a Walnut Grove Democrat, was elected to Congress Nov. 3.

Machado, who represented San Joaquin County in the state Legislature for 14 years, has been contracted to conduct "community outreach" efforts for the project, receiver spokesman Luis Patino said. His contract begins Monday.

Garamendi, Jr. was hired in November for outreach work. The 1,734-bed health facility is one of three projects that the court-appointed federal receiver has planned for the county.

The proposed project has been met with opposition from local government and community groups.

The Stockton Greater Chamber of Commerce, city of Stockton and San Joaquin County have filed a lawsuit to challenge the accuracy of the project's Environmental Impact Report.

The groups also claim that the receiver has not adequately addressed local concerns about the project's potential cost and impact on the area. The case, which was initially filed in San Joaquin Superior Court, has since been moved to federal court.

Patino said the outreach work will highlight the potential for jobs if the project moves forward.

"The people in San Joaquin County, primarily in Stockton, are suffering with a very high unemployment rate that is above 15 percent at this time. This project will bring in thousands of construction jobs and long-term good paying jobs," he said.

Douglass Wilhoit, CEO of the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce, disputed Patino's claim, saying the bulk of jobs created would be for doctors, nurses, medical technicians and mental health workers, professions he said already have low unemployment rates in the area. He said community leaders are worried that the planned prison facilities would drain the local medical centers of staff and talent.

"We've heard all this before. We've heard a lot of promises, we've heard a lot of fluff, but the proof is in the pudding, we'll see what they can deliver," Wilhoit said.

Machado described his new role as "interfacing with the community to try to create a better understanding and coming together to try to see the mutual benefits of the project."

"I think I bring a unique perspective both from the community and one from what's needed to facilitate the demands that have been placed on the state by the federal court," he said.

Patino also highlighted both Machado's and Garamendi's ties to the area. "They understand the community, and they will be a very strong liaison for us in getting our message to the community," he said.

Machado, who left the Senate last year, recently registered as a lobbyist with Sacramento Advocates.

Patino said Machado would not be lobbying the Legislature on behalf of the agency.

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