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City hit with lawsuit over hospital

Posted: December 23, 2008 9:21 p.m.
Updated: December 24, 2008 4:59 a.m.
 
Two local community organizations filed a lawsuit Monday against the city of Santa Clarita asking for guarantees that hospital officials will build the 120-bed hospital tower.

The groups that filed the lawsuit - Community Advocates for Healthcare SCV and Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment - maintain the development agreement does not obligate hospital officials to build the tower.

Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital officials responded with an assurance the tower will be built and hoped the suit would not stall construction.

"Leadership at (the) hospital sincerely hopes there will be no delays in providing the new hospital addition, parking and helipad, which are the three newest projects we are currently working on," said hospital spokeswoman Andie Bogdan. "The new hospital addition is the key element of the master plan and its main motivation. The development agreement was written to clearly outline a guarantee that hospital construction is tied to the second and third medical buildings."

Still, the organization leaders are concerned the medical office buildings will be built before any hospital facilities.

"What we hope to do is make sure that hospital beds and promised benefits to the community are really built," said Lynne Plambeck, SCOPE president. "They're asking the community to bear a lot of impacts. It's imperative the hospital facilities get built as well."

Residents brought up these issues multiple times during the hospital expansion's four-and-a-half-year permitting process with the city.

"This should not have been a surprise," Plambeck said.

Community Advocates for Healthcare SCV share many of the same concerns.

"We believe the development agreement does not mandate there be a hospital ever built," said Dr. Gene Dorio, group spokesman. "We are in desperate need of acute-care beds and operating rooms in this valley."

He said he hopes the lawsuit will bring balance in the community.

"In the community, there's been an imbalance between the community, government and business," Dorio said. "And this imbalance has put the community at a deficit. We hope this lawsuit will help bring the balance back."

Filing a lawsuit is the only option to restore balance, Dorio said. "It's unfortunate this is the only recourse that we have to do it."

The Santa Clarita City Council gave final approval on the 15-year master plan Dec. 9.

The $300 million expansion calls for three medical office buildings, a central plant, four multilevel parking structures and the inpatient building.

Hospital officials plan to begin construction on the first parking structure in 2009. The suit also claims the city's environmental-impact report does not comply with the California Environmental Quality Act and the city's approval of the project violated its own code and ordinance, which requires the zoning regulations for master plans to conform to the underlying building regulations for that zone.

"We all wonder at a council that could have approved a project like this without absolutely making sure we get the promised services," Plambeck said.

City officials could not comment on the lawsuits Tuesday afternoon.

"The city has not been served (with the suit), so we're unable to comment at this time," City Attorney Carl Newton said.

SCOPE board member Cam Noltemeyer said the organization filed the lawsuit Monday.

SCOPE does not intend to prevent construction of hospital beds or other medical facilities, but rather ensure they are constructed.

"It's not our intention to hold things up," Noltemeyer said.

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