Cedars-Sinai Medical Center won approval last week from a key city commission to build an eight-story research building, despite outcries from homeowners' groups that the project does little to alleviate a critical parking shortage in the congested area around the Beverly Center shopping mall.
The Los Angeles Planning Commission, by a 5-0 vote, approved the 151,000-square-foot facility after a series of hospital officials and representatives from health and medical organizations attested to the need for an expanded research center. The facility, which must also receive City Council approval, would be built on the site of the hospital's 30,000-square-foot Halper Building, a structure that hospital officials say is overcrowded and outdated.
In gaining commission endorsement of the project, Cedars-Sinai agreed to a moratorium on other construction until the city has approved a master development plan for the campus--something city officials said can take two to three years. The medical complex, next to Beverly Center, is in an area of intense development, with four other major projects under way nearby: La Cienega Hotel, Ma Maison hotel, Four Seasons hotel and the Dart Square shopping mall.
The commission rejected several major demands made by the leaders of area homeowners groups who, along with Councilman Zev Yarolsavsky's office, had been negotiating with the hospital about parking and other concerns. The commission denied requests that the hospital provide free parking for research center employees, and that the new development include at least 500 parking spaces.
Residents have complained for years that employees of the medical center park in residential neighborhoods because there is not enough parking at the facility and that they do not want to pay for the parking that is available. They argued that only free and abundant parking at the new research center will address that problem.
"We need to make sure the parking is utilized," Ronald D. Rosen, head of the Westside Civic Federation, told the planning agency.
But the commissioners said free parking would encourage employees to drive to work rather than use public transportation. They said solutions to congestion and parking problems on the Westside lie in increased use of mass transit, not in providing additional parking.
"Subsidizing parking is a problem," said Daniel P. Garcia, president of the commission. "It does a disservice to the effort to get people to use public transit."
Compromise on Numbers
The issue of how many parking spaces Cedars-Sinai should provide was the source of intense disagreement among the hospital, the homeowners and city planning officials. Some homeowners wanted the hospital to provide as many as 815 parking spaces, while others were willing to settle for 500. The hospital initially proposed 300 spaces, eventually agreeing to 476.
The city planning official who studied the case recommended 529 spaces, but his boss, the chief hearing officer, later overruled that recommendation--suggesting instead that the hospital provide 476 spaces with a promise to add 74 more if studies show they are needed. The chief hearing officer also recommended that the hospital provide a $1.1-million performance bond to ensure construction of the 74 spaces.
The hospital successfully opposed the performance bond, arguing that Cedars-Sinai's reputation in the community should be sufficient to ensure that it will follow through on its obligations. Commissioner Sam Botwin said it did not make sense to tie up money that could be used for research or other medical purposes.
After the commission vote, Rosen and other homeowner leaders decried the action, saying the commissioners ignored the neighborhoods' concerns.
"This is a typical example of an elitist Westside hospital getting special attention by the commission," said Diana Plotkin, vice president of the Beverly-Wilshire Homes Assn.
Martin Strudler, vice president of the West Hollywood West Residents Assn., said parking problems from the hospital spill into neighborhoods in his city, leaving residents there scrambling for parking near their homes.
Homeowners "are cast in the role of the bad guy," Strudler said. "This is a highly commendable facility, and there is no way you can oppose medical research. But we are just trying to make it so that we can live with it."
But the residents did not leave empty-handed. Cedars-Sinai's willingness to negotiate with homeowners--the hospital acquiesced in some of their requests, including restrictions on the building's use for non-research purposes--and its agreeing to the building moratorium were signs of progress, the residents said. Hospital officials also emphasized that they are trying to be good neighbors.
"We believe that Cedars' long record of community service and its policy of responsiveness to community concerns demonstrates that it is concerned as much with the quality of life as the quality of health," said George J. Mihlsten, an attorney representing the medical center, in a letter to the commission.