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Officials Test the Waters on Hospital Site : Development: Public hearings in some communities raise concerns about traffic. But others appear willing to consider making room for the new facility.


County officials went on the road this week in their search for a home for the proposed East Valley Medical Center. They found a difference of opinion among communities over whether a new hospital would be welcome.

Several communities don't want anything to do with the proposed 334-bed hospital. But others want to at least discuss the idea.

Residents of at least three communities where public hearings took place--Pico Rivera, Whittier and Bassett--told the county Hospitals Commission that they are concerned that the facility would clog streets with traffic, attract bands of transients or other so-called undesirables or wreak havoc with city budgets by removing land from the property tax rolls.

In three other cities where public hearings were planned--El Monte, Duarte and Pomona--city officials or health-care activists have expressed interest in attracting the hospital. But it remains to be seen if their proposals will be supported by residents in those cities.

Reactions to the hospital plan have emerged during the series of hearings by the Hospitals Commission, which next month is expected to recommend to the County Board of Supervisors a preferred site in either the San Gabriel Valley or Southeast Los Angeles County for the medical center.

The new hospital is designed to serve the high volume of low-income people from the San Gabriel Valley who now must travel to Los Angeles County USC Medical Center in East Los Angeles for comprehensive public health services.

The new medical center is part of a plan, approved by the Board of Supervisors last year, to replace dilapidated facilities at USC Medical Center. Under the plan, the USC facility will be rebuilt as a smaller hospital, with many of its patients dispersed to the East Valley Medical Center.

Funding for all the improvements has not been arranged, but is likely to depend on a bond measure expected to go before voters next year.

The county is not required to win approval from the future neighbors of the $386-million East Valley Medical Center, but members of the Board of Supervisors have said they would prefer not to force the facility on any community.

Community groups have already objected to several sites that had been favored by the county Department of Health Services.

On Monday night in Whittier, for example, about 50 homeowners from the Spyglass Estates housing tract told the Hospitals Commission that they do not want the hospital built on what is now a strawberry field near Workman Mill Road.

Speakers said their exclusive subdivision, where homes are worth up to $600,000, already suffers from excessive traffic along that road--mostly generated by Rio Hondo College and Rose Hills Memorial Park.

"There is a heavy traffic problem there," resident Larry Smith told the commission. "Access to our homes is a big concern, particularly when the (San Gabriel River) Freeway is congested."

Others said the locale would not be soothing to patients--what with the nearby cemetery, train tracks and a local performing arts center.

"What will (patients) say," queried Spyglass resident David Payne. "Will they say, 'I've got to listen to the train go by all day. I've got to look at the graves all day. But don't worry, I can hear the music from the concerts at night.' Sure, that will perk their spirits up!"

Payne concluded to hearty applause from an audience of 75: "I don't think it's good for the patients, and I know it's not good for me."

At two Saturday hearings in Pico Rivera, residents of that city also told the Hospitals Commission that their neighborhood near the Pico Rivera Golf Course is not the right place for a hospital.

"It would increase traffic congestion, and there probably wouldn't be any barrier between adjacent residential facilities and the new hospital," City Councilman Alberto Natividad said later. "And the hospital clientele would generally not be a favorable clientele."

City officials said they are also concerned that development of a public hospital would remove land from the property tax rolls that would generate revenue for Pico Rivera if developed commercially.

And on Tuesday, the commission was in La Puente, where residents of the unincorporated community of Bassett said they do not want the hospital either. Speakers told the commission not to pick two proposed sites in the community, because homes would have to be condemned to clear the land.

"Why would I want a hospital to take my home away from me?" one resident, Alice Sweeney, asked before the meeting. "I think (the hospital) should be taken out where there are no homes. This is ridiculous."

County officials have said they already have cooled to the Bassett locations, after direction from the Board of Supervisors to try to avoid condemning homes and businesses.

The hospital does have a few friends.

Two community groups told the commission they would like to see the hospital built in the El Monte area.

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