Politics & Government

Audit blasts California veterans home for spending money on adventure park, tavern

The California Department of Veterans Affairs wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars building an adventure park and running a cafe and tavern at the state’s home for veterans in Yountville, the state auditor said Thursday.

State Auditor Elaine Howle said in a report that the administrator of California’s largest and oldest home for veterans entered into a contract to build and operate a nearly 200-acre adventure park on the grounds, including zip lines and a mountain biking course.

Top managers in Sacramento halted construction when they learned about the project in 2010, at a cost of $228,612, according to the audit.

Howle said the administrator at the Yountville home also contracted out the operation of a cafe and tavern at the home, at a cost of about $424,307 over nearly two years. Howle said the contract did not comply with state contracting requirements and that the cafe and tavern could have been operated by someone else at little or no cost.

The audit said the park and tavern contracts were “imprudent” and “violated state contracting requirements.” The auditor’s office also faulted oversight of the home administrator in Sacramento.

The auditor’s office declined to identify either the home or the administrator involved. The California Department of Veterans Affairs confirmed the home is the one in Yountville.

The former administrator of the Yountville home, Marcella McCormack, retired last month.

According to the audit, the home held about $5 million in a fund to provide for the morale, recreation and welfare of residents as of June 2012. It used the recreation fund to operate businesses including a baseball stadium, recreational vehicle park, swimming pool, bowling alley, cafe and tavern on the home grounds, according to the audit.

Peter J. Gravett, secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, said in a prepared statement, “It is clear that poor decisions were made, and the Department has taken action to strengthen the internal controls” of recreation and welfare funds.

He said, “The individuals who are the subjects of the BSA report are no longer employed by CalVet” and that an independent review has been initiated “to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.”

The audit comes as the Department of Veterans Affairs prepares for opening celebrations at two new homes, one today in Fresno and the other next week in Redding.