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Time demanded and time granted

Local activists call for a chance to comment on study

Posted: August 8, 2008 9:39 p.m.
Updated: October 10, 2008 5:03 a.m.

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Activists who demanded more time to consider a hospital expansion plan Friday quickly got what they wanted: an extra 45 days of public review.

Smart Growth SCV, which has opposed plans to expand Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, staged a news conference at City Hall Friday morning, vowing to fight the issue in court if necessary.

"It not only breaks precedent, it defies common sense," organizer David Gauny told supporters. "Without hearing a staff presentation on this report, how can the public understand or comment on all of the changes, clarifications or corrections that were ordered at the last council hearing?"

By afternoon, the group had their answer in the form of a city statement.

"In the city's continuing efforts to provide excellent public participation to the public it serves, the city will re-start the 45-day process to ensure full and complete opportunities for the public to comment," the statement read.

"The city wants to make sure that everyone who wishes to participate in the comment process for the hospital expansion project has an opportunity to do so."

At issue is the public review period for the environmental report on Newhall Memorial's expansion plans.

Gauny, chairman of Smart Growth SCV, demanded the city reopen the public review period for the environmental impact report, since the public hasn't had a chance to verbally comment on the new EIR during a city public hearing.

The deadline to submit comments was Friday and the public hearing is scheduled for Sept. 9.

He also said that the 45-day review period that was supposed to extend from June 26 to Aug. 11 ended three days too early, which would violate state law.

Gauny said, "It is absolutely something we will fight in court if we need to."

In response, city officials said the draft EIR will be recirculated to give the public another 45 days to read through it.

The public will have until Sept. 29 to review and comment on the EIR. City staff will provide written responses to all written and oral comments at the end of the new 45-day review period.

The 3,000-page document outlines the potential environmental effects of Newhall Memorial's plans to add three medical office buildings, a 120-bed inpatient tower and parking structures. This EIR is the third one drafted for the project since public hearings began in 2005.

The EIR was released in June along with the hospital's revised master plan. The revised plan showed changes that included more hospital property being granted to the public right-of-way to eventually widen McBean Parkway.

Gauny said Friday afternoon he was pleased with the city's response.

"Our city has an outstanding tradition of listening to its citizens. While this becomes increasingly difficult with growth, it is essential to protecting the city we love and live in and, in this case, ensuring that we have a true expansion of our valley's inpatient services," he said. "We are proud to see the city honor this request. It was the right choice."

City spokeswoman Gail Ortiz said hard copies of the document are available at City Hall. An electronic version is posted on the city's Web site at www.santa-clarita.com.

The public hearing on the draft EIR will be held at 6 p.m. Sept. 9 in the City Council Chambers of City Hall.

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