Is City Paying for Luxury Lodging for Caserta?

Is the City Paying for Caserta to Stay at the Lovely But Majestic Yosemite Hotel?

By Robert Haugh

We noticed on the Council agenda for this Tuesday, February 21, that Vice Mayor Dominic Caserta has requested the city pay $2,300 for him to attend the Yosemite Policy Makers conference in March. Yosemite is a spectacular place for a conference, and the topics seem interesting.

caserta

But when we went to the website, we noticed the conference fee is only $400. So what’s the other $1,900 for? The staff report doesn’t say.

So we looked up an appropriate per diem amount from the federal government’s website that sets rates that most government agencies use for travel expenses.

Caserta should be entitled to three nights of lodging and two dinners. The conference feeds him the rest of the time. The per diem rates for Mariposa County, the location of Yosemite Park and the conference is:

  • $107 for lodging per night
  • $69 for meals per day

So Caserta’s total should be $528 for lodging and meals, not $1,900. Why the high budget?

We checked out Priceline.com. To spend that amount, Caserta would have to stay at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel ($564 per night and higher). It’s gorgeous and historic but no way is it justifiable as a government travel expense.

We found the Best Western Cedar Inn and Suites to be right at the $107 per night mark and they have available rooms. It looks nice and they have free breakfast.

***Editor’s note: We’ve been advised since publishing that the Best Western option is a substantial distance (up to 1.5 hours) from the conference site – rooms at the host site start at around $275/night***

If Caserta really wanted to save the city some money, he could stay at the Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort Hotel for $50 per night. But sorry, no free breakfast, and we hope the “bug” isn’t a description of what may reside there.

The item is currently on the consent calendar. But if it’s pulled for discussion, we’ll report back on more details like room rates and free breakfasts. Stay tuned.img_2369

19 comments

  1. Who cares if Robert has issues with the Councilman? The facts are the facts and they are not lessened Because of “issues with” is it to my h money yes or no? That’s the issue!

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  2. Robert,
    I am curious why the sudden focus on this trip, seems like small beans to me. Other councilmembers take trips all the time and cost even more than this one. Where is the oversight for those trips?

    Reading through your postings, you seem to have particular issues with Mr. Caserta, why?

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    • I have no issue with Caserta, but when I see a large amount for travel to a regional conference, it raises a red flag. Trips requiring airfare will always cost more.
      This is only a focus recently, as it wasn’t known about until late Thursday evening when the Council agenda was posted.
      Therefore the earliest opportunity to report on the travel expenses for me was Monday.

      When other travel items appear, I will report on those as well. Feel free to send me any news tips on suspicious activity or spending in the City.

      I have only posted a few things about Caserta – there is far more criticism of other people than him, so I am not singling him out whatsoever.
      When issues arise, I am not afraid to expose them and tackle them as a journalist.

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      • Robert,
        Thanks for the quick reply, but its difficult to believe that you have ‘no issue’ with Mr. Caserta when reading through your posts. I appreciate your effort to give better coverage of local affairs, as not enough people are attentive, but this ‘report’ just comes off as petty, especially with the images you have added and since you did not cover this item right away on Thursday night or Friday, could you explain the holdover?

        Also, I agree that every dollar counts, but you seem to be forcing an issue over less than $1,000, and did you look into whether there were any rooms left at the conference host hotel, since you went digging at other places? You are blaming Mr. Caserta for what was likely staff research and decision. shouldn’t this article be about staff’s decisions and tranparency?

        Mr. Caserta is a unique elected official, and he certainly deserves the magnifying glass, as all elected do, but it feels like you are merely trying to burn him, which I can only infer is to hurt his future so we end up with another San Josean on the County BoS.

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      • I do not have issue with Caserta.
        For the record, I graduated from Santa Clara High School and never had him as a teacher.
        When I worked at the Santa Clara WEEKLY, I rarely wrote on or about him, minus campaign fundraising topics, to which, as history will show, I’ve always covered local election spending and fundraising matters. others at that paper had issues with him … But I did not.

        I did look at the lodge rates in detail – as the article denotes – the host hotel starts at about $275/night – and is not available at the time of the conference, though rooms may have been available to conference guests – though that is not available to the public.

        I learned of Caserta’s travel plans on Thursday evening, however, this is what I published on Friday:
        https://santaclaranews.org/2017/02/17/breaking-news-dark-money-matters-part-2/

        The earliest opportunity to publish about this matter for me was on Monday – I publish Monday through Friday only.
        This conference wasn’t even brought to the Staff until Feb. 1.
        Unfortunately, the staff report has zero information on what the funds are being utilized for. And to obtain that in a timely manner would require a Public Records Act request, which wouldn’t be available prior to tonight’s meeting (yesterday was a City holiday by the way).

        I have no reason to burn Caserta. I gave him ample opportunity to respond for my article on his campaign contributions, and also afforded him an opportunity to write a 500-word article himself for publication. He did not submit anything on either.
        I will continue diving into all issues facing Santa Clara, and will hold that magnifying glass close on every local elected official and staff member.

        If you see other travel expenses that come forth without information on details and prices, please let me know.

        Thank you for commenting – it is greatly appreciated. I will always allow comments from community members on my site, as long as people are civil and respectful of others.

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    • Caserta never responded for comment from my last request, nor submitted a guest opinion explaining his side, which I afforded him. Since the agenda report doesn’t go into detail on the expenses, there wasn’t a need, in my opinion, to contact him regarding this matter – especially given his lack of response in the past. The city has approved travel before – this just seems like an extraordinary amount for a conference that’s restively local.

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      • Robert, I just asked because it always looks stronger when the subject had a chance to respond ahead of publication.
        I wouldn’t mind seeing him squirm, that’s part of his charm. Might be all of it for that matter.

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      • Absolutely. I agree. And generally, as a rule of thumb, I allow the subject an opportunity to respond. The agenda was posted late Thursday. Can’t always expext a subject to respond. But, yes, that’s generally what I do. Just didn’t in this case since the subject has gained to respond prior – still hadn’t received his guest opinion piece he was allotted.

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      • You mean there isn’t any documentation attached to the Item? Isn’t Diridon Jr. Doing his job either? Where is the documentation to substantiate the $2300 expense? He is the “auditor”, isn’t he! Oh, that’s right. He’s buddy with the requester … Figures

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      • This is pretty typical for consent calendar items. There’s usually not much supporting info on items like this. So There’s likely nothing to include such as conference and lodging fees.

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