SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – If you’re a veteran going to the California Department of Veterans Affairs, good luck finding a parking spot.
“Yeah, it’s happened to me before,” said one disabled visitor who claimed he often has to park farther away and walk across the street on his crutches.
He said it’s because the visitor parking is all taken. On The Money has learned why.
State officials appointed to lead CalVet are parking there instead to avoid paying for parking as other employees do, an On The Money investigation found.
The signs clearly state two-hour visitor parking, but Undersecretary Laurence Gonzales claimed he didn’t see it when an On The Money producer questioned him.
“Do you think that is right for you to be using a visitor spot like this?” the producer asked.
“Probably not, but I do go in and out on business,” said Gonzales, who was appointed to his position by Gov. Jerry Brown in mid 2011. “It is probably a matter of getting to your vehicle so that you don’t have to go find a spot and travel and then come back.”
It’s the second time in a week CalVet officials have made headlines. On Monday, an On The Money investigation uncovered officials appointed by Gov. Brown signing off on each others’ business travel to their Southern California homes.
But some of the same appointees are reaping their own special benefits in Sacramento as well – leaving veterans and visitors with no place to park.
“This doesn’t really look that good,” an On The Money producer said to Gonzales.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said. “You said it didn’t look that good. I said I’m sorry.”
CBS13 spotted Gonzales’ Porsche Boxster parked in the front visitor parking spaces every day of the week.
“It doesn’t seem right at all,” one visitor told CBS13.
“That place is there to serve veterans,” said a concerned insider who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The insider said many of the designated visitor spots are being used by department staff, including a car driven by the man in charge of CalVet, Secretary Peter Gravett.
“If you’re the head of the Veterans Affairs agency, you should definitely put veterans first,” he said.
Deputy Secretary J.P. Tremblay, also appointed by Gov. Brown, doesn’t see a problem, he said.
“There are 30 to 40 parking spots in front of the building. At least half of those are empty during any given time,” he told On The Money anchor-reporter Sam Shane.
Actually, there are 17 visitor parking spots in front of CalVet, and on the days we visited, as many as a third of those were being used by state employees.
California Assemblywoman Beth Gaines (Roseville) said it’s another example of state departments putting themselves before the people they serve.
“It’s wrong. It must stop,” she said.
After seeing our footage, Gaines sent a letter to Gov. Brown directly asking him to intervene immediately.
“It’s a terrible example,” she said. “These are state cars and state employees’ cars taking up places of our veterans who have served this country. They should be put first, not last.”
But an order from the governor won’t be necessary for Undersecretary Gonzales, he said.
He will find a new place to park his Boxster.
“Where do you think you’ll be parking?” a producer asked.
“In a spot other than here,” he said.
Although Tremblay defended officials using the visitor parking spaces, Undersecretary Gonzales and Secretary Gravett have stopped parking their vehicles in the visitor lot. Several state vehicles, however, still park in those two-hour visitor spots.