Warden at California Men's Colony to retire in November

Elvin Valenzuela is the warden at the California Men's Colony.
Elvin Valenzuela is the warden at the California Men's Colony. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

State officials will begin the search for a new warden at the California Men’s Colony when the prison’s current top administrator retires in November.

Elvin Valenzuela, 51, has worked at the medium-security facility on the outskirts of San Luis Obispo since 2006 and became warden in December 2012. His last day at the prison was Sept. 4 and he will officially retire Nov. 6, said CMC Correctional Lt. Monica Ayon.

An acting warden will likely serve for some time before the Governor’s Office selects a replacement, following a lengthy appointment process.

Valenzuela began his career as a correctional officer at Avenal State Prison in Kings County in 1987 and transferred to California State Prison Corcoran, also in Kings County, two years later, according to information provided by CDCR. By 1998, he had been promoted to correctional lieutenant at the prison.

He moved to CMC as a correctional captain in March 2006 and briefly left for North Kern State Prison in Kern County as an administrator of operations in June 2009. In October 2009, Valenzuela transferred back to CMC as chief deputy administrator, managing the minimum-security West Facility and the medium-security East Facility, as well as overseeing the administrative segregation unit and officer use-of-force incidents, according to his résumé attached to his warden application.

He was appointed acting warden of the prison in November 2011, following the retirement of Terri Gonzalez, the prison’s first female warden, who was appointed associate director of general population male offenders at the department’s Sacramento headquarters. Valenzuela rose through the ranks with Gonzalez beginning when both worked at Corcoran, according to Tribune archives.

At 6 foot 3 inches tall, Valenzuela is known by local officials as a “gentle giant” with a commanding physical presence but soft-spoken demeanor. He oversees a staff of approximately 1,800 and earns an annual salary of $139,644, according to CMC.

During his tenure, as a member of the San Luis Obispo County Anti-Gang Commission, Valenzuela headed an effort to develop gang member documentation cards that are now used by every law enforcement agency in the county to record contacts with known or suspected gang members and associates.

In late 2014, state officials launched an investigation into the prison administration’s “actions regarding an inmate’s file,” CDCR spokeswoman Terry Thornton wrote in an email to The Tribune. She said that despite media reports at the time, neither Valenzuela nor top staffers were suspended as was reported, but declined to comment further on the investigation, citing personnel confidentiality laws.

The investigation had been completed as of January 2015 and “all appropriate actions were taken,” Thornton wrote.

Ayon said though Valenzuela’s last day in the office was Sept. 4, the state cannot accept applications for the job until Nov. 6, when Valenzuela will have used all his paid leave time. The department will then advertise for the position and after a vetting process submit candidates to the Governor’s Office. By law, the governor must submit those candidates to the Office of the Inspector General, which will return a nonbinding recommendation within 90 days.

Ayon said Chief Deputy Warden Josie Gastelo will serve as acting warden while the process unfolds.