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Hospital officials move on with plans

Opponent separates himself from lawsuit

Posted: January 16, 2009 9:29 p.m.
Updated: January 17, 2009 4:55 a.m.

One of the most vocal opponents of Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital's master plan for expansion is keeping his distance from a new lawsuit but still accused the city of inappropriate approval.

David Gauny, founder of the grass-roots organization Smart Growth SCV, said he wants nothing to do with the two organizations - Community Advocates for Healthcare SCV and Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment - that filed suit against the city in Los Angeles Superior Court on Dec. 22.

The suit claims the master plan's environmental impact report is insufficient and there is not enough assurance that hospital inpatient rooms will be constructed.

Gauny founded Smart Growth several years ago, claiming the master plan features too much medical office space and not enough hospital development.

"I don't want to pursue it any further," he said Friday.

Community Advocates was an unheard-of group prior to the suit's filing, and Gauny doesn't know if anyone involved with Smart Growth is involved with the lawsuit.

"I have not really asked because I don't want to know," he said. "I have no input."

Gene Dorio, a doctor of geriatrics at the hospital and spokesman for Community Advocates, did not return calls Friday.

The City Council approved the 15-year master plan Dec. 9, after years of public haranguing. Gauny was disappointed with the direction taken by the hospital and council, but he wants to get back to shift his focus to other civic development issues.

City officials, meanwhile, remain confident they are in the right.

"We're very disappointed by the lawsuit. There was a four-year public (review) process," said Mayor Frank Ferry in the wake of a closed-session City Council meeting.

He questioned why Community Advocates never came forward during that time and prior to filing a lawsuit.
City Attorney Carl Newton was hesitant to speculate, but said in a worst-case scenario the hospital could be forced to re-submit a master plan application. Alternately, the court could find only certain parts of the EIR need to be addressed.

"We had always hoped to negotiate a settlement," SCOPE president Lynn Plambeck said. "We would prefer not to go to court."

The goal of the lawsuit is not to hold things up, she said, but to ensure the hospital portions are actually built.

Additionally, Plambeck said SCOPE wants to see the master plan employ green building practices, including low-energy lighting, windows that make use of natural light and environmentally friendly insulation.

Ideally, she would like to see the hospital comply with federal low-energy standards, similar to those of the city's Transit Maintenance Facility.

"We're fully committed to energy efficiency and going green," hospital spokeswoman Andie Bogdan said. "We just haven't committed to (federal) certification yet."

Were the court to order no changes, Plambeck said the two groups would have to at least consider filing an appeal.

The suit also claims the EIR 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.

There is nothing in the suit that prevents the hospital construction from moving forward, Newton said, though he added: "There's always some risk."

Hospital officials intend to move forward, Bogdan said Friday.

She said hospital officials are meeting with medical facility planning firms in the next few weeks.

The $300 million expansion calls for three medical office buildings, a central plant, four multilevel parking garages and an inpatient building. Hospital officials plan to begin construction on the first parking structure this year.


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