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St. John’s Talks Traffic With Community:

Saint John’s Health Center has been working on reconstructing its campus since it was damaged in the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. Its first new building, the Chan Soon-Shiong Center for Life Sciences opened in 2005 and in 2009 the Howard Keck Center opened. Now, the hospital is working on constructing a new plaza that will contain a drop off and pick up area and access to valet parking.

The Health Center entered into a Development Agreement (DA) with the City of Santa Monica in 1998 that contains the parameters for the reconstruction. Santa Monica and a developer agree to a DA when the developer’s construction exceeds 7,500 square feet. The developer offers the City public benefits in exchange for permission to develop their project with parameters that are outside of the City’s zoning standards.

St. John’s officials along with their traffic consultant, KOA Corporation, and staff from the City of Santa Monica discussed two traffic studies at a poorly attended community meeting on Jan. 6. The first study had to do with the new plaza and the second study had to do with the traffic impacts from the new emergency room. However, there was no mention of the traffic studies requested by the City because the hospital is asking the City to amend their DA. This amendment has to do with the fact that the Health Center no longer wants to build a 442-space subterranean parking structure under the plaza. City Senior Planner Roxanne Tanemori responded to a Mirror question on this omission by stating that the garage amendment traffic studies will be discussed when the amendment is taken up by the City in early spring.

St. John’s Health Center’s Vice President of Mission and Ethics, LaTisha Starbuck, stated that if the amendment is approved the hospital will continue to study whether there is a need for the subterranean garage. Right now, they are having valets park cars at various locations in the city. If the structure is built in the future, the plaza will have to be dug up to allow for the garage’s construction.

The plaza study analyzed five intersections along Santa Monica Boulevard. They were located at 20th, 21st and 23rd streets, Cloverfield Boulevard, and the intersection where center inbound drivers will be located. The proposed plaza will contain a U-shaped configuration with one signalized entrance driveway and one signalized exit driveway which is two fewer driveways than the current configuration. The consultant found that this new configuration “will not adversely affect traffic on Santa Monica Boulevard.”

Tanemori mentioned that the City and the Health Center are looking at the possibility of synchronizing signals at the intersections of 20th and 23rd streets and Santa Monica Boulevard. Tanemori and the officials from St. John’s emphasized that the plan for the plaza was still conceptual.

The second study studied the traffic impacts from the new emergency room driveway on four intersections and was required by the DA because the hospital’s emergency room entrance was originally located on Santa Monica Boulevard and the City wanted to know what impacts if any it would have on 21st and 22nd Streets once it was moved onto Arizona Avenue. This was of particular concern because these two streets contain mainly private residences. Tanemori noted that the “city reviewed the methodology before the study started and the results when the study was completed.” The study was done after the ER was open for six months.

The four intersections studied were 21st Street and Wilshire Boulevard, 22nd Street and Wilshire Boulevard, 21st Street and Arizona Avenue and 22nd Street and Arizona Avenue.

The consultant found that [although] the “ER driveway did cause a significant increase in traffic,” there was no increase in traffic {compared to] before the emergency room opened, and that there was no increase in accidents on these streets due to unsafe speeds. Starbuck stressed that the hospital will “continue to monitor along with the city the impact on traffic of the ER.” She also mentioned that “emergency room use has stayed constant since the ER opened and actually there has been a slight increase” in use.

Mid-City resident Maryanne Solomon asked why the traffic study didn’t include 23rd Street. Tanemori responded that the DA did not require the study of that street.

Another Mid-City resident, Ellen Hannan, stated that the “City was negligent in not asking for a more comprehensive circulation study” around the area of St. John’s Health Center.

An acoustic study required by the DA agreement was also presented. This study looked at the noises produced by the ER, the loading dock, and the service building to see if the surrounding community was negatively impacted. The study found that the noises produced by these sites were at an acceptable level.

When questioned about how the health center was notifying the community about the community meetings, Starbuck stated they were using a City mailing list of those residents and property owners who reside within 500 feet of the hospital.

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