Before Talking Hospital...
Tonight’s City Council meeting rushed headlong towards discussion of the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital/G&L Realty expansion plan. There was a nice pause to recognize the team of Claritans who work at JPL and helped on the Mars Phoenix Project, but after that, things moved with great haste. Public participation was moved to the end of the meeting, and the Council breezed through an 8 item consent calendar in a matter of seconds. The public hearing that preceded the HMNMH discussion got a continuation, and we were suddenly onto the topic that brought the people to City Hall: the Master Plan for Henry Mayo.
Presentations Times Three
Staff brought things to a profound halt with their presentations. The PowerPoint slides and monotone spiels were necessary evils, though, getting everyone on the same page—theoretically.
1. The first presentation was a general review of the history of the expansion project and a summary of the revisions incorporated into the Master Plan now before council. We were reminded that the applicants would like to build more than 60 feet above present height limits, that they plan to unceremoniously plop enormous office buildings and parking structures into the heart of suburbia, etc…
The City took the interesting tack of putting “Inpatient Building” at the top of a list of what applicants G&L Realty/HMNMH are requesting to build. This new hospital building will be neither the largest nor the first-built component of the project, but it was plainly the part that expansion-advocates wanted to highlight. In the comedy portion of the program, we learned about the “major modifications” made to the old Master Plan after public input. These included making one of the parking structures subterranean, reducing overall square footage, enhanced landscaping, and pedestrian "amenities.”
2. The second presentation was about the revised EIR. It included a new emphasis on how the hospital’s construction will impact global warming. I couldn’t help but laughing, imagining how global climate models will change based on what happens in a tiny piece of a tiny city on a tiny bit of the earth’s surface. It was far less amusing to learn that there will be “significant and unavoidable” deterioration of air quality and increase in noise during construction of the campus. Impacts on traffic were kind of breezed over.
The most interesting part was learning about the alternatives explored in the EIR, including building of the Inpatient Building only, of a shorter Inpatient Building, of only some of the Medical Office Buildings, etc…
3. The final presentation dealt with the development agreement. That’s the means of compelling construction of the new Inpatient Building. The developer must submit plans for the hospital and have “steel in the air” on the new Inpatient Building before they can occupy and/or construct some of the medical office buildings. It’s kind of like bribing a kid to eat his vegetables (i.e., expand the hospital) by promising him a big piece of chocolate cake (i.e., lucrative medical office buildings) afterwards. The presentation disclosed that there is still a “no obligation to develop clause” that means the Inpatient Building could, quite legally, never be built. This was tempered by the promise that there will be no eminent domain and the assertion that the present development agreement is relatively stringent(ish).
Roger Seaver Speaks, Craig Peters Insults
The “applicant” was given 30 minutes to present its case. HMNMH CEO Roger Seaver started things off with the predictable “This is not just about medical buildings” speech. He flaunted benefits of the Master Plan: a neonatal ICU, increasing the number of operating rooms by 50%, and “enhanced architecture on all buildings to reflect ‘the look of Valencia.’” He emphasized the word “community.” I heard little hope in his voice, just fatigue from a very, very long process.
Craig Peters, Senior V.P. of Industrial Properties at CB Richard Ellis, and member of the hospital board was next to speak. Excuse me: Mr. Peters was the next one to allow us the distinct pleasure of hearing his voice and marveling at his 80s-style coiffure. Indeed, Craig Peters came off as pompous, condescending, and self-important. He urged the City Council to ignore the “handful of opponents” to the project, dismissing them as “NIMBYs” and “no-growthers.” Only commercial real estate experts can truly understand the complexities of the Master Plan, he explained to the unwashed masses in the audience. Anyone else really ought to just shut up and accept that G&L Realty has to move forward with expansion as laid out in the Master Plan. In short, he decided to insult the opposition rather than entice or persuade them. We shall see how well it works.
Emotional Story Sharers—Support and Opposition
Many of the comments from the public were highly emotional. A man in the midst of battle against lymphoma, parents whose children had been hurt in accidents, and a mother requiring two emergency C-sections all shared their stories. The story-sharers speaking in favor of the Master Plan said we couldn’t wait any longer—a let’s-take-what-we-can-get-approach. The story-sharers against the Master Plan wanted desperately to see more hospital before more medical office buildings. One speaker suggested that more MOBs could interfere with the ability of people to get in and out of the hospital, thereby hurting those most in need.
Several doctors came forward in support, as did residents expressing the sentiment “I went to Henry Mayo and it was great; give them what they want.”
In Opposition—[I’m growing weary; prepare for sloppy transitions]
There were several technical objections to the Master Plan. Speakers mentioned that “Master plans must conform to their underlying zone”—it’s on the books—and this project would violate zoning ordinances. Cam Noltemeyer asked why the hospital was reduced in square footage when it’s the one element of the project we most need. She wondered why G&L office buildings are allowed to sprawl forcing the Inpatient Tower to soar 100’ into the air.
Several poked fun at ads released by the hospital. Dr. Gene Dorio said that 4 of the 7 doctors quoted in a pro-expansion ad said the “ad distorts their opinions of the Master Plan.” Dorio said the helipad was very poorly sited and would require awkward trips in elevators and across a 1/3 mile stretch to deliver critical patients to the hospital.
Lindsey was the first of three Newhalls to speak out against the hospital (whose namesake happens to be her ancestor). Reena Newhall was predictably outspoken, ridiculing an ad put out that made factually impossible claims about how long a doctor worked at HMNMH. Tony Newhall began with a dramatic flourish that pushed Recuse-a-thon-’08 forward. He handed over papers to City Council that will impel SmartGrowthSCV efforts to have Frank Ferry and Laurie Ender recuse themselves for being unduly biased in favor of the hospital expansion. He closed by saying “This deal is about real estate” and that Santa Clarita needs “less office space, more operating rooms.”
TimBen Boydston revealed the fruits of his independent research into the parking situation at HMNMH. He requested half-an-hour to detail his findings at a special meeting in November. Tonight, he was ready to make the claim that “The project has a huge parking deficit” and that the study used to defend parking plans had “huge flaws”, not the least of which was provisioning zero parking spaces for ER patients.
Roger Rebuts, Except Not
Seaver had a chance to rebut, but he basically conveyed that he’d rather just send a written reply. At the urging of Councilmember Laurene Weste and the questioning of Mayor Pro-Tem Frank Ferry, he talked a little, but it’s safe to say his real rebuttal to accusations made during tonight’s meeting will come later and in writing.
Laurie Ender asked a quite important question quite frankly: “Is there enough parking in this plan?” Seaver replied “I can say with great confidence there is.” After the many accusations that preceded this reply, I think we still have those who remain less than convinced.
Councilmember Marsha McLean offered certain proof that she has been doing her reading about the Master Plan. She presented papers littered with sticky notes and asked a number of questions that had come up during her close reading. Many of these weren’t answered very satisfactorily by City staff, but they helped define areas to clarify in future meetings.
Ferry finally responded to the cries for recusal. He quite correctly asserted that people want their elected officials to hold and express opinions. He said that’s all he’s been doing while contending that “My mind’s always open.” Unfortunately, he talked about the expansion as something that is unequivocally going to happen—he’ll make it the best expansion possible, but some kind of expansion is a foregone conclusion. This is why people will still cry “Recuse!”--he should also be open to considering the option of flat-out rejecting the Master Plan.
Public Participation consisted of people who stayed till the bitter end to speak speaking about how they disliked having to stay till the bitter end to speak. The idea of moving PP to the end of the meeting was Ken Pulskamp’s, according to TimBen Boyston, and I must say that I kind of like it. As Mayor Kellar pointed out, it makes sure that people whose items are on the agenda get a fair chance to speak. It also means that you really have to care about what you have to say in order to stick around to say it, so getting whole neighborhoods to show up will prove harder to accomplish and thus even more impressive at upcoming meetings. After these comments, the meeting mercifully adjourned.
Everyone wants a new, bigger, better hospital. The plans to expand the campus are very big plans indeed, but most of the space is going towards medical office buildings, not a hospital. Even after revisions and scaling back, buildings on the campus will grossly violate the building height and density standards for residential low zones. Before a decision is reached, there must be significant clarification reagarding: the traffic and parking issue, commitment to Centers of Excellence, and a convincing discussion of why we can't go ahead with one of the less-dense alternatives presented in the EIR.