Tensions ran high and emotions hit a fever pitch at the Santa Monica Main Library as Mid-City residents expressed serious reservations about a proposed amendment to the pending Saint John’s Health Center development agreement at community meeting on April 5.
At issue was a proposal by Saint John’s Health Center (SJHC) to establish “a parking program to meet the peak parking demand … (i)n lieu of constructing an on-site parking structure.”
Several residents expressed concern whether the City and its city council was legally authorized to be in negotiations with SJHC regarding proposed amendments to the Development Agreement (DA). Specifically, the residents who attended the community meeting at the Main Library stated the City failed to provide proper notice of the proposed amendments.
“On what legal authority are these negotiations taking place?” resident Kenny Mack asked City staff. Mack attested that the City violated state law in failing to properly notify residents about the proposed amendments.
“You haven’t notified owners of real property around the hospital you are negotiating an amendment (to the DA),” Mack said. “There are plenty of owners of real property here, if they (have received) their notice, they would have said they got it. So, clearly… you have not publicized the fact that you have been negotiating an amendment to the development agreement.”
Senior Planner Roxanne Tanemori presented the proposed amendments to a crowd of about 30 concerned residents, stating all legal requirements were met.
“We are going through the process in accordance with our legal requirements,” Tanemori said. “My understanding is the steps we have gone through today are in compliance.”
Mack still questioned whether the City or SJHC was indeed in compliance with the state’s notification procedures.
“There is a very clear specification in California law that any proposed amendment to a development agreement must go through a two-phase notification process. Just the proposal of an amendment has to go through a two-phase notification process (before planning commission and the council may consider the issue),” he vehemently stated. “I am hearing City officials say on the record that none of that has taken place. Therefore, it seems as though there is no legal authority for these negotiations.”
Prior to the public input portion of the community meeting, Tanemori made a case for SJHC’s proposed amendment to its approved DA with the City, which was originally approved in 1998 and called for a subterranean parking structure to be built on-site.
“The DA authorized a two-phase project. Key components included demolition of approximately 536,000 square feet of existing hospital and authorized the reconstruction of approximately 475,000 square feet… of hospital buildings. The original project also included the construction of a 442-space subterranean parking garage and the development of a number of open space elements,“ Tanemori said.
Residents were primarily concerned SJHC would renege on its original plans for on-site parking, with those directly affected by the hospital’s plans to shift parking off-site arguing traffic spawning from SJHC would persist and the hospital would be far from a boon for those who live in its immediate vicinity.
“Without including the required parking (for the anticipated traffic to and from SJHC) is, in the true sense of the phrase, mind-boggling,” Valerie Griffin, who spoke as a resident instead of her capacity as a Wilmont board member, stated. “Where do we park? The LUCE (Land Use and Circulation Element) itself calls this area … where the hospital is, as parking starved and suggests additional parking is needed. If it costs Saint John more money, so be it.”
Just the same, attorney Christopher Harding, who counseled SJHC, said he believed the health center was in compliance with notification laws concerning the proposed amendment and did not breach the original 1998 DA.
“I think we’ve complied with the law. We’ve been careful, the city attorney is careful, but I am going to go back and take a second look,” Harding, who practices law at Harding, Larmore, Kutcher, and Kozal, stated.
Still, the residents in attendance at the April 5 community meeting appeared to be strongly against SJHC’s proposed DA amendment, as it aimed for the addition of more than 400 parking spaces on the health center’s property would at least keep traffic in the immediate area from getting worse.
Significantly damaged by the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, SJHC has been on a rebuilding path for more than 17 years. After portions of the facility opened on 2005 (Chan Soon-Shiong Center for Life Sciences) and 2009 (Howard Keck Center), SJHC began moving forward with its plans to construct a new entry plaza for drop offs, pick ups, and valet parking.
When SJHC entered into its DA with the City in 1998, the approved plans outlined specific details for the health center’s reconstruction, including the building of an on-site, 442-space subterranean parking structure.
However, in 2007, SJHC asked the City to amend its DA to not include plans for the on-site subterranean parking structure and instead to provide driving visitors with a viable alternative.
Under the new parking plan, which SJHC claims serves as the functional equivalent to its previously approved plans to build a subterranean parking garage, about 1,540 parking spaces would be provided on hospital property or at leased facilities off-site.
The proposed amendment to the Development Agreement (DA) also called for full-service valet, modifications to the Entry Plaza, and a “Transportation Demand Management Program” to reduce vehicle trips to SJHC.
With the community meeting scheduled solely to receive public input, no resolution on the issue was reached. Instead, City staff and SJHC representatives are expected to take the public input into consideration of what it will ultimately present to Planning Commission and the Council in the next few weeks.