Capitol Alert

Jerry Brown vetoes bill to lease Folsom prison land for museum

Gov. Jerry Brown has vetoed a bill that would have obligated the state to enter into a lease with a non-profit group that runs a museum at Folsom State Prison.

The non-profit Old Guards Foundation Inc. sponsored the bill by Assemblywoman Beth Gaines, R-Roseville, hoping to land property for an expansion of the small museum it operates on Folsom prison grounds with nine volunteers. Private donations and grants would have paid for the museum expansion, said James Brown the foundation’s secretary-treasurer.

“We thought, ‘This isn’t going to use any taxpayer money at all. How could anybody object?” James Brown said.

Brown said Monday that he rejected the measure because the state already has a process for leasing property to nonprofits.

“Rather than forcing the state to allow a little-known, non-governmental entity to use public property for up to 50 years, I would prefer that supporters pursue the existing authority provided in statute,” Brown wrote in his veto message.

Gaines said in an emailed statement that she was “disappointed” by the governor’s veto. The measure received unanimous support in the Legislature, she noted, and Brown’s concerns “were never brought up at any time during the committee or floor process.”

She promised to work with the governor “to alleviate his concerns and get this bill signed into law.”

James Brown said his foundation will reach out to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the Department of General Services about a lease. The museum has outgrown the 900-foot house it occupies on the prison grounds, he said, and now stores items off site that could be displayed with more space. A foundation brochure touting the museum expansion envisions exhibits that tell stories of correctional staff and inmates alike through “... official prison documents and photos from the early 1900s, prison furniture, light posts and work benches, old hemp ropes used to hang prisoners, a 1919 paddy wagon” and other artifacts.

About 15,000 visitors last year paid the museum’s $2 admission fee. That doesn’t include members of the military, law enforcement and their families who visited for free.

Although the majority of foundation members are retired correctional officers, the museum’s operation is financially independent of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. A union spokesman said CCPOA did not take a position on Gaines’ bill.

Editor’s note, 4:45 p.m.: This post has been changed to add comments from Assemblywoman Beth Gaines.