State Parks official who OK'd Lady Gaga video is put on 'time off'

ktanner@thetribunenews.comFebruary 21, 2014 

Nick Franco, the State Parks district superintendent who approved filming of a Lady Gaga video project at Hearst Castle, was placed on "administrative time off" in mid-February, shortly after filming concluded, sources have confirmed. The time off is to continue "until further notice."

Sources contacted for comment on the reason for the move, including Vicky Waters, deputy director of public affairs at State Parks home office in Sacramento, declined to discuss the reason for the action because "it is an ongoing personnel matter."

Refilling the iconic Neptune Pool at the Castle, something requested by Lady Gaga, drew criticism from some because of the statewide drought conditions. But water for the refilling came from a Hearst Ranch reservoir.

Steve Hearst, a Hearst Corp. vice president, said he donated the water to refill the pool and that the water wasn't actually "spent," just stored in a different location until it was used to irrigate Castle landscaping, its original destination.

State Parks sector Superintendent Brooke Gutierrez confirmed Friday that, for now, she is the acting superintendent for State Parks San Luis Obispo Coast District.

It has not been confirmed whether the Lady Gaga project was a factor in Franco's time off, and whether the move is temporary or permanent.

Franco was noticeably absent from the Castle hilltop during the days when the Gaga entourage was there, although he was on the job in his office near the Visitor Center at the foot of the hill. Indications from sources familiar with the situation who declined to be identified for the record are that he was under orders not to have anything to do with the Gaga event.

Gov. Jerry Brown wrote a letter to Gaga on Feb. 12 thanking her for the financial assistance, totaling about $300,000, she paid in connection with the filming. Some of that money will go toward patching a leaky Castle pool, and some toward a study to help explore options for securing an additional water source for Cambria.

"I've called on all Californians to conserve water in every way possible, and the assistance you are providing will aid in that effort," Brown said.

Gaga also filmed a water conservation video.

Franco, a Cal Poly graduate who has worked for State Parks for more than three decades and as district superintendent since 2003, declined to comment for this story, but he received a vote of confidence from Hearst.

“Nick Franco is as dedicated a state employee as I’ve ever met,” Hearst said. “He always puts the interests of the state and, in this case, the Castle first, in his thinking, and he always tries to do the right thing for them and the people of California.”

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