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Proposed Hospital Site Threatens 89 Homes

March 21, 1991|DEAN E. MURPHY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A residential neighborhood in the unincorporated community of Bassett would be demolished to make way for a proposed 350-bed hospital to serve poor residents of the San Gabriel Valley under a plan unveiled this week by Los Angeles County health officials.

The proposal calls for the demolition of 89 homes, six stores, two service stations and a church in a 31-acre neighborhood near the intersection of Valley and Covina boulevards, several blocks east of the San Gabriel River (605) Freeway.

In a report to the County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, health officials identified the area as "the most appropriate location for the facility," scoring higher than 31 other potential sites, including an Irwindale property favored by county officials last fall.

"When we were first considering sites, we were trying to stay away from residential homes," said William Weitekamp, county Department of Health Services project manager. "But then we felt that (the Bassett) site had so many advantages in terms of access, that (the residential factor) was weighted less."

County health officials have not informed homeowners in the Bassett neighborhood of their recommendation. But aides to newly elected Supervisor Gloria Molina, who represents the area, began making phone calls to residents this week.

Molina told the board at its meeting Tuesday that she has reservations about the proposal because it would disrupt so many families.

"I am concerned with the recommended site," Molina said. "The recommended site talks about moving . . . family residences, and that is going to create a whole series of problems."

Molina said she wants to study all 32 potential sites--including the previously recommended one in Irwindale--before endorsing or ruling out any of them.

Owners of the Irwindale site had asked the board to remove their property from consideration because they have development plans of their own. At Molina's urging, however, the board voted 3 to 2 to delay action on that request until April 9.

"I think we'd be making a big mistake by stating at this point in time this is not a site that is acceptable," Molina said of the Irwindale property. "I'm sure that as we go out and start discussing other sites, there will probably be other people who will object to other sites. It is part of the process in locating any public facility of this type."

County officials said they did not know when the board would make a final decision on a hospital site. It could come as early as the April 9 meeting, but Chief Administrative Officer Richard B. Dixon advised the supervisors Tuesday to take their time.

"It is a major decision that will shape the delivery of medical care in the valley," Dixon said.

The proposed hospital, to be called the East Valley Medical Center, is part of a plan by the Department of Health Services to improve public hospital facilities countywide.

The plan, approved by the Board of Supervisors in October, calls for upgrading the aging County-USC Medical Center in East Los Angeles and reducing its capacity from 1,398 to 950 beds. The beds would be shifted to other public hospitals, including a new facility in the east San Gabriel Valley.

The $388-million East Valley Medical Center would be financed through a bond measure the county expects to put before the voters next year. If the measure passes by a two-thirds vote, officials expect construction would begin in 1996.

Weitekamp said county health officials are recommending the Bassett neighborhood for the hospital in part because of opposition to the Irwindale property.

Irwindale city officials have opposed building a hospital on the 38-acre site, zoned for heavy manufacturing, because the city would lose about $1 million in property taxes from a planned industrial park. If the land were purchased by the county, it would be exempt from property taxes.

By recommending a neighborhood in an unincorporated area of the county, health officials have avoided any further clashes with municipal officials over lost tax revenues, since unincorporated areas are governed directly by the Board of Supervisors and do not have city governments.

"We had a number of incorporated cities express concerns about losing property from their property tax rolls, so that was a consideration," Weitekamp said.

The county health recommendation to purchase the Bassett site, endorsed by Dixon, would cost an estimated $20 million, including $2.75 million to relocate the affected families and businesses. In the report to the board, county officials predicted a new hospital would improve the "community environment" in Bassett and act as a catalyst for other redevelopment.

The proposed site is bounded roughly by Valley and Covina boulevards, Proctor Street and San Angelo Avenue. The report said it ranked highest for several reasons, including:

* Its central location to the intended service area, which covers the east San Gabriel Valley, particularly the El Monte area;

* Its easy access by bus from Valley Boulevard and by car from the San Bernardino (10), San Gabriel River (605) and Pomona (60) freeways;

* Its reasonable acquisition cost (it is estimated the Irwindale property would cost twice as much);

* The minimal jurisdictional problems because of its unincorporated status, which would also allow the county to control potential redevelopment near the new hospital.

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