Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Happenings: Did Somebody Say Commitment?

If you need to be brought up to speed on the Henry Mayo Master Plan issue, I suppose you could read this Signal article[1].

Despite hopes for the contrary, there wasn't a whole lot of "new" at tonight's hospital-centric City Council meeting--just alarming overuse of the word commit in all its various forms[2].

Sure, the new-ish Development Agreement was discussed. Paul Brotzman fearlessly led us through a summary of the document and pointed out potential benefits provided by its so-called "sequencing of improvements." For example, G&L Realty wouldn't be issued the building permit for Medical Office Building 3 until they began construction of the new Inpatient Building--the one demanded by the community at large. As many speakers would later note, however, G & L Realty could still get away with building only medical office buildings and parking structures under the Development Agreement per a "no obligation to develop" clause.

Overall, the Development Agreement inspired a lot of hypotheticals regarding what the city could withhold (e.g., the certificate to occupy a building, building permits) in order to compel construction of the Inpatient Building, sufficient parking, and other perceived necessities. By 11:30, Mayor McLean and Roger Seaver were talking very frankly about what would have to happen in order to assure the elusive "third vote" in favor of the Master Plan.

Still, the status quo prevailed. Tonight, as ever, HMNMH CEO Roger Seaver said that signing an agreement to build the new Inpatient Building--and not just medical office buildings--was an impossibility. And tonight, as ever, David Gauny[3] and other opponents said that just wasn't good enough. Gauny reported hearing "no", per usual, in response to his group's many well-defined and reasonable negotiating points.

That not much new was said at the City Council meeting didn't diminish its importance, however. It was an opportunity for both sides to present their cases in polished, practiced form. When the time came for public comments, Roger Seaver and Reena Newhall were the effective figureheads for those for and against expansion, respectively . Despite having only three minutes to speak and no PowerPoint to back her up, Reena was the clear winner in this match-up. I'll give you a break-down in a very long aside:

Roger - "We are committed" was said eight times in as many minutes. It worked remarkably well as ammunition for the opposition to aim squarely back at Seaver, as in "Where's the commitment to a new hospital, Mr. Seaver?"
Reena - "Appeasement du jour" was coined to describe laughable concessions made by the hospital in an attempt to appease the community. Reena takes this round.

Roger - Emphatic repetition was not limited to "we are committed." Roger also singled out each City Council member by name and rattled off the same set of rhetorical questions at them. Roughly, it was "[Council member], I'm asking for your commitment. I'm asking for your commitment to the full master plan. I'm asking for you to commit to the residents of Santa Clarita..."
Reena - Speaking in a bracingly sardonic style, Reena eviscerated the appeasement du jours. I was particularly fond of her ode to "the melodious sound of helicopters" and "therapeutic" gasoline fumes awaiting those in the planned healing garden.

Roger - Despite singling out each council member with the "I'm asking for your commitment" schpeel, I think most members were left wondering "Is he going to do that to all of us?" rather than feeling personally addressed.
Reena - How nice it is to have someone who is not afraid to call out City Council members by their first names. In particular, she got Laurene Weste's attention by mocking the proposed healing garden's open space dedication.

Roger - He drew yawns and sighs. It didn't help that HMNMH's own Dr. Gene Dorio came forward with 62 letters signed by hospital staff concerned with the immediate need for more operating rooms--not office space.
Reena - She drew guilty giggles and amused gasps with her pluck and sarcasm.]

One thing was made amply clear at tonight's City Council Meeting: it's time for a decision about the Henry Mayo Master Plan. As Council Member Laurene Weste said, "If we don't move ahead ... we're gonna be dog-gone in trouble as a community." The decision is still several months away, however; the Council won't likely discuss it again until January 8, and even that date's tentative. In the interim, the new E.I.R. will be circulated and there will doubtless be many meetings. Of course, neither of these actions will change the situation very much at all.

If I'm reading the prevailing tides correctly, Roger Seaver and G&L are going to get approval of their master plan early next year. There will be some kind of clause that sort of forces construction of the Inpatient Building--perhaps before the second Medical Office Building can be occupied--in order for G&L to get the rest of their desired M.O.B.s. The community around the hospital will suffer more than was anticipated as a too-big project is forced into a too-small space. City Council members may remember with some regret that they were under no obligation to do G&L favors--this when construction of the Inpatient building is delayed or complicated. At that point, of course, progress will have begun and will not be stopped.

Oh yeah, and we'll be spending $60,000 to fix the configuration and angle of parking in Newhall; Jeff Wilson of SCVTalk lobbied for dogs-sans-leash; and I'm tired and not writing very well so I'm off to bed with heart-felt apologies for a lack of clarity. Thank God the meeting only went until 12:35 a.m.

[1]"Hospital Plans Are Front and Center", by Jerry Berrios in the Sunday, September 23 edition.
[2]To be fair, Frank's restrained manner was new.
[3]Of SmartGrowthSCV

No comments: