NEWPORT BEACH — Wearing "I love Hoag" buttons and carrying stacks of environmental documents, about 100 residents packed City Council chambers Monday night to debate the controversial Hoag Hospital expansion plan.
"We live here. These are our homes. Our children live here," said Mark Faulconer, a Villa Balboa resident. "We're all for (the hospital expansion) but we don't want it to dominate the site. . . . What we're asking for is that the city, Hoag Hospital and the community consider alternatives."
Hoag officials presented the master plan for development over the next 20 years. It does not detail the types of services to be offered, but is a framework for the sizes and locations of new buildings.
The hospital's plan calls for a row of two- to four-story buildings along Coast Highway. It would add a critical-care center next to the existing tower and redevelop parts of the older buildings on the upper campus.
Hospital officials argued that the expansion is necessary to keep the hospital at the forefront of health care services and criticized neighbors' alternative proposals as inadequate.
"The main benefit is Hoag will be able to provide for all the community--something that often goes unnoticed," said Michael Stephens, the hospital president. "I think we're entitled to some right to go forward with these plans because we've been working on them for so long."
Hospital officials also responded to questions from City Council members who seemed concerned about such issues as the size of new buildings and why those buildings could not be located in places where they would not block residential views, as neighbors have suggested.
Stephens answered: "Anything is possible. The question is what is the cost, what is the benefit . . . and weighing those against the public benefit."
But Mayor Phil Sansone criticized plans to build a critical care unit 45 feet from the Villa Balboa condominium complex. "Sticking the thing next to the residents makes no sense," he said.
Sansone added that he was concerned that hospital rates would increase to pay for the new development.
"It's almost impossible for the average citizen to go into Hoag Hospital without coming out nearly bankrupt," he said. "If you are going to increase your rates more than $9,000 for an average stay, a lot of average people won't be able to afford it, and we've got a lot of average people here."
Council members also questioned other issues, such as building on an earthquake fault, and the success of plans to replicate wetlands there.
Members of the the Villa Balboa Homeowners Assn., one of three residents' groups opposed to the hospital's plans, offered alternative development proposals, aired their concerns and gave suggestions for a more neighborhood-friendly building proposal.
Opponents criticized the aesthetics of the proposed building as ill fitting for the west Newport neighborhood and said the environmental review's treatment of lost views, gas seepage and increased traffic was inadequate.
The council ended the hearing after two hours and is scheduled to resume debate in two weeks, when council members are expected to vote whether to approve the plan.