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Buyoff or bunkum? Try buyoff

The vote that G&L Realty bought

Posted: August 16, 2008 8:56 p.m.
Updated: October 18, 2008 5:02 a.m.

A proposed $300 million expansion of Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital would include a new five-story patient wing and three new medical office buildings, as well as parking structures.

 
Well, folks, if you’re not outraged by the buying of Councilwoman Laurie Ender’s election seat, then we’re all in trouble.

As this paper reported on Aug. 2, a political action committee called “Citizens for Integrity in Government” received $30,000 and then spent $29,500 of that to launch a last-minute smear campaign that misrepresented Ender’s opponents, hijacked our April City Council elections, and boosted Laurie Ender to her council seat.

The audacity of such an amount is trumped only by the arrogance of the man who contributed it: Richard Gottlieb, president of the Beverly Hills office developer and the “G” in G&L Realty.

Mr. G’s generous donation came on the heels of a problematic revelation about his controversial expansion plan at Henry Mayo’s campus: a reluctant admission from hospital CEO Roger Seaver that no inpatient hospital building would ever be committed to in the contracts.

This admission forced the name of the project to change from “hospital” expansion plan to “campus” expansion plan and, as you’ll see, it creates a real problem for Mr. G — something a fat campaign contribution might fix.

Enter Frank Ferry. First, even more incredulous is a key detail the article missed: Mr. G’s money came in addition to $12,000 that was illegally contributed by SCV City Councilman Frank Ferry’s campaign committee.

Ferry’s money was also used to print fliers for Ender, providing a whopping $42,000 for her 11th-hour smear extravaganza.

It’s not hard to understand why it is illegal for one campaign committee to fund another candidate’s campaign. If allowed, incumbents could essentially buy “friendly” council seats, resulting in alliances and rigged voting.

Beholden
But Ferry, our longtime councilman and California State Bar-licensed attorney, claimed ignorance: “You generally don’t know you’re breaking a rule until the (Fair Political Practices Commission) tells you.”
With this, Ferry defied common sense and California law to get pal Ender on the council.

To put things in perspective, Ferry’s campaign committee and Gottlieb’s PAC contributions made up more than 60 percent of Ender’s 2008 campaign funding. Wow. As one local blogger put it, “Can you say ‘beholden?’”

For those who are new, office developer G&L Realty formed a quiet alliance with our community hospital in 2003, allowing the nonprofit/for-profit bedfellows to advocate a grand hospital expansion as co-applicants.

But their proposal hit snags after three years of review when it became increasingly clear that nothing was promised in the plan except G&L’s revenue-generating office buildings.

The problem this creates is that zoning law prohibits office buildings from being shoved into a Residential Low zone without “clear and substantial benefits” to the greater community. This made it imperative that the project be sold as a hospital expansion, which we now know it is not.

But it’s the chronic misstatements about the plan that offer red flags for our public. The nature of the project was first revealed back in 2006, when the public noted that the plan’s 240 proposed inpatient beds were simply “forgotten” in all of the plan’s documents.

A new environmental report was produced nine months later but was immediately followed with a dubious “no obligation to develop” contract clause that gave G&L Realty 15 years of entitlements with none of the “clear and substantial” benefits it promoted. That contract language remains to this day.

Why?
Nevertheless, we’ve heard many explanations as to why this project must be approved as is.

First we heard that top doctors must have office space nearby — a mile away is too far. This argument vaporized, however, when several doctors came forward to complain about the terrible shortage of operating rooms. Apparently seven O/Rs are needed immediately, even with no additional office space, yet only four can be provided without an expanded inpatient building.

With surgeons already waiting in line to perform surgeries, doctors asked how 200,000 square feet of new office space would improve things. After all, what “top specialists” will be attracted to waiting in line?

Next, “Centers of Excellence” became the buzzword, with promises of specialty surgeons for cancer, spine care, and other specialties.

In a “client privileged” memo to “independent” consultants paid to study the appropriateness of the proposed office space, the hospital claimed that fully 75 percent of the space would be used for such services. But this was a shell game apparently, as today literally 0 percent is committed — not one square foot.

These same taxpayer-funded consultants then lied plainly about conversations with neighboring Providence Holy Cross, claiming the provider stated no intention to expand into Santa Clarita. But along with the “Citizens for Integrity” at G&L Realty, they were shamed when the Providence Holy Cross CEO appeared before the council to claim that no such calls were ever made and that Providence was indeed considering property here.

Utter nonsense
Finally, in the last round of hearings, hospital CEO Seaver changed course again, claiming that the office space is really “all about the financing.”  All three office buildings must be approved now, he claims, because of obscure financial arrangements that have never been fully explained or validated.

The argument is nonsense. Under contract, only 51 percent of the space is required for doctors with staff privileges, leaving literally half the proposed space for dentists, billing services, and boob jobs. These non-critical services offer nothing to the financial security of the hospital or its investors — it’s all for G&L.

In the final analysis, we see that G&L’s approach to business is the same as its approach to elections: Sell the dream and disclose later. There remains no guaranteed inpatient building and exactly ZERO square feet of office space committed to the so-called “Centers of Excellence.”

Dothe majority of Santa Clarita citizens really support such a plan?  Ms. Ender, of course, says yes.

Smart Growth SCV has never opposed a hospital expansion. In fact, we have not opposed construction of new medical office buildings; it’s their land, and they have a right to build and grow.

However, we stand firmly against such a massive entitlement for G&L without a clear public benefit in the form of a real hospital expansion. Failing this, the plan is not only unwise, it is illegal. No one wins but G&L.

Here is what we propose:
n Approve two of the three proposed medical office buildings in hope that a new hospital will be constructed. It’s a gamble, but one taken in good faith. The third office building must be approved separately when a new hospital building is guaranteed.
n Approve a four-story hospital with the same square footage currently proposed in five stories. The new environmental report says this is feasible and it should be done.
n Provide adequate parking per city code and not at the discretion of city planners. The last version of the proposal hid a 300-space shortfall, and staff wanted to bury the problem. Anything less than full parking for our sick and injured is inexcusable and immoral.
n Require that office space be committed to the highly-touted Centers of Excellence. The current proposal states that only 6 percent of the proposed space must be leased to these services or “other hospital-related uses.” In other words, nothing is committed.

Hostage to profit
These are responsible controls on a developer that has repeatedly demanded everything and promised nothing in return. Holding our health care hostage to extract profits from donated land should concern all of us, and it is why members of the Newhall family — major hospital contributors and Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial’s namesake — have stood opposed to the plan from the beginning.

Thank you, Mr. Gottlieb, for caring so much about our health care that you bought an election in a town where you don’t even live. However, a “Citizen for Integrity in Government” you are not.

As for you, Laurie, you promised your voters a hospital expansion, and G&L’s plan holds no such promise. All of Mr. Gottlieb’s money does not change this fact.

David Gauny is a Valencia resident and founder of Smart Growth SCV. His column reflects his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.

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