Audit: $650K wasted on adventure park on grounds of historic veterans home

By CHANNING JOSEPH | The Associated Press | Published: October 17, 2013

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of tax-payers' dollars have been squandered on a plan to build an adventure park on the grounds of a historic state-run veterans home in Northern California.

California State Auditor Elaine Howle said in a report released Thursday that the administrator of the Veterans Home of California in Yountville wasted more than $650,000 working to build a nearly 200-acre park and for a contract to operate a cafe and a tavern on the site.

"The administrator's actions in executing two specific contracts demonstrated her disregard for state contracting rules and the importance of using funds reserved specifically for veterans in a prudent manner," Howle wrote.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Peter Gravett acknowledged the problems cited in the audit and said the department would now be reviewing all expenditures for veterans homes.

"It is clear that poor decisions were made," Gravett said Thursday in a statement. "The individuals who are the subjects of the BSA report are no longer employed by CalVet."

The administrator, who was not named in the audit, is no longer employed by the Veterans' Affairs Department.

The adventure park's primary attraction was to have been a sprawling zip-line tour snaking across the scenic property, situated in the heart of the state's Napa Valley wine-growing region. The park would have featured seven zip lines linked together by a series of platforms and footpaths. It would also have included an observation deck, trails for mountain biking and hiking and a lake path.

Staff and residents first became aware of the project in July 2010, the audit said, when they were startled to see a helicopter hovering over the property, ready to deliver several large wooden beams to support the planned zip lines.

Soon after, crews arrived with bulldozers and other heavy machinery to uproot trees from a thickly forested section of the grounds.

Construction was stopped a month later after residents and staff began to complain to state officials.

Though the administrator admitted that "she really did not understand what a zip line was," the audit said, she was excited about the project's potential to raise income for the home from visitors willing to pay to use the park. She also said she thought the residents would be excited about using the park, which another home employee had promised her would accommodate disabled veterans and be available to them for free.

The average age of the home's 1,100 veterans is 79, according to the audit.

Termination of the park project cost the state $228,612, the audit said.

The administrator also contracted out the operation of a cafe and a tavern at a cost of $424,307 over a two-year period, the audit said, even though both could have been operated by another entity at little to no cost. That operator is no longer under contract, and there is now a new operator.

California runs six state homes for veterans, providing them with housing, medical care and three meals a day.

The Yountville home, built in 1884 by veterans of the Mexican War and the Civil War, is the largest such facility in the nation, according to the state Veterans Affairs Web site.