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THE GOLDEN COMPROMISE : How the Irvine Co., the University and the City Agreed to Stop Disagreeing and Begin Building a Community Hospital

October 13, 1985|MARK I. PINSKY | Times Staff Writer

Former Irvine Mayor Gabrielle Pryor has no difficulty summing up the 15-year battle over location, construction and control of the city's first hospital.

"Everybody beat everybody, and nobody got what they wanted," she said. "The city lost . . . , the Irvine Co. lost and UCI lost."

To some people in the city, the company and the university that share the name Irvine, Pryor's assessment is overly harsh. After all, construction will start next year to finally provide a hospital for the largest city in California without one. And UC Irvine and Irvine Co. officials--who were on opposite sides of the battle--have been aglow with optimism about what the future holds since their rapprochement.

In the heat of the controversy, it was difficult to find two people who agreed publicly on what it was really about. One university official, who asked not to be identified, insists: "It's always been a real estate deal. . . . It had nothing to do with medicine."

While it raged, "the hospital struggle contributed to the failure of many other things in the relationship" between UCI and the world that surrounds it, according to one physician and longtime observer.

But all of that now seems to be changing.

Flow of Contributions

The Irvine Co. stands to benefit from use of land whose profitability once was in doubt. The university gave up its dream of an on-campus hospital but since the settlement has seen corporate and civic contributions flow into its coffers at an increasing rate, especially from the Irvine Co.

The growing intimacy of the ties between UCI and local economic interests is clear. Some examples:

- UCI is engaged in delicate negotiations with the Irvine Co. over development of 500 acres of campus property and 150 acres of contiguous land for a biotechnology park, which the company hopes will not compete with a similar project it plans for the "Golden Triangle" at the confluence of the San Diego and Santa Ana freeways.

These negotiations include a possible $10-million package of university chairs endowed by the Irvine Co.

- The university's lead negotiator in these discussions, John Miltner, has use of an Irvine Co. membership in the Big Canyon Country Club. Lease payments for the car he drives are paid for in part by the UCI Foundation, a nonprofit organization that serves as the university's main community support group and is directed by an executive committee that includes Irvine Co. Chairman Donald Bren and the heads of other big Irvine-area companies.

On Medical Center Board

- Miltner, Irvine Mayor David Baker, philanthropist/industrialist Arnold Beckman and Gary Hunt, Bren's longtime personal aide and vice president of the Irvine Co., serve on the board of the Irvine Medical Center, the long-sought community hospital.

While some within the city and academic community bemoan the increasingly close ties of the three main players on the Irvine scene, Chancellor Jack Peltason believes the intimacy helps rather than hurts the university.

"Nobody owns us or controls us," Peltason said. "The experiment (involving UCI and the Irvine Co.) is still being tried and the outcome is still in doubt." What is evolving, he said, is "a more realistic coincidence of interests. It is not a conflict of interest for us to help the Irvine Co. if what helps them helps us."

To understand the current atmosphere, it is necessary to look into the background of the hospital controversy.

The idea of a community hospital for Irvine was first proposed in 1970 by more than 100 doctors in private practice in and around Newport Beach, some of whom also practiced at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in that city. Plans were already drawn for a university research hospital on the UCI campus, to be part of the medical school, but founders of the Newport Community Hospital Foundation had plans for a complex of their own--a $400-million biomedical park, to be located on 150 acres of Irvine Co. land adjacent to the campus, at the intersection of MacArthur Boulevard and University Drive.

By 1975, the Newport Community Hospital Foundation had become the Western World Foundation, and the proposal had gained some powerful partners, including Hoag Hospital and Beckman, founder of Beckman Instruments Inc., a medical equipment manufacturer. The Irvine Co. offered to donate 18 acres adjoining the campus to the foundation for a hospital site and to sell at a bargain rate an additional 115 acres for health-related industrial, commercial and research enterprises.

The question facing county and state authorities, which have the power to regulate the number of hospital beds, was whether the young city needed two hospitals, one hospital or no hospital, since there are several hospitals just outside its city limits, including Hoag, which was known to suffer a high vacancy rate.

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