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A prescription for local discord

The only hospital in Santa Clarita wants to expand, but a neighbor is rallying opponents.

July 16, 2007|Ann M. Simmons | Times Staff Writer

The city of Santa Clarita, faced with the pressures of a burgeoning population, is grappling with the need to expand its only hospital despite residents' concerns that a towering medical complex could ruin their suburban enclave.

The region surrounding Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, which opened in 1975, has grown from a far-flung northern outpost of Los Angeles County to a sprawling suburb, with about 180,000 residents in the city of Santa Clarita alone. But Henry Mayo, a nonprofit facility equipped with a trauma center, remains the only local hospital.

Plans for the hospital expansion include four multilevel parking structures with two helipads, three medical office buildings and a five-story inpatient tower that could accommodate 120 new beds. Ultimately, the hospital could provide 370 beds.

"You have something that has a significant impact on all of us, that's healthcare; and this is the only local hospital" said Carl Goldman, a 17-year area resident and owner of KHTS-AM (1220). "There's a huge stake in this for everyone."

Still, the expansion plan has riled many area residents who say they never bargained for so much construction and change in their already congested neighborhood of single-family homes. Talks are continuing among Henry Mayo officials, city staff and residents, and a decision may not come for months.

"We need to figure out how to get what the hospital needs in order to expand," while making sure the size of the project is appropriate for the area, said Santa Clarita Mayor Marsha McLean.

The nearest other full-service facility serving the Santa Clarita Valley is Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, six miles away. It has medical offices in Santa Clarita and is considering buying land in the area for a new full-service facility.

Access to local healthcare, affordable treatment and prospective hospital expansion at the risk of increased traffic and neighborhood overcrowding are topics that resonate in communities nationwide.

In Fountain Valley, planned expansion of Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center has triggered concerns about vehicle congestion and the venue for a new 162,500-square-foot building.

In Oceanside, voters have twice rejected bond measures that would finance the renovation and expansion of the Tri-City Medical Center. Some opponents have cited the facility's care for illegal immigrants for their objection.

The plan for Santa Clarita, backed by Henry Mayo and its developer partner, G&L Realty of Beverly Hills, does not guarantee construction of the inpatient unit, which worries some residents who view it as vital.

David Gauny, whose home overlooks the hospital site and whose view could be obstructed, said that when he first heard about the plans for Henry Mayo, he figured he could count on a thumbs down from protective city officials. But then he learned that the local Planning Commission seemed to be in favor of the project. That's when the self-employed mortgage broker unexpectedly became a community activist and a leader of the opposition to the hospital's plan.

He has rallied residents over concerns that include increased traffic, obstructed views and the possible need for eminent domain. He and other residents complain that details of the plan are confusing.

"I'm not anti-growth," said Gauny, 40. "The thing that concerns me is irresponsible growth."

Tony Newhall, a descendant of the family that founded Henry Mayo, said he initially dismissed the controversy. Newhall, who co-owns a Valencia dancewear and costume shop with his wife Reena, said he wasn't prone to getting involved in a community fracas. But the more he learned about the planned expansion, the more upset he became.

The developers plan to place profit-making office buildings on the 25 acres that Newhall's family donated in 1970s to build Henry Mayo as a nonprofit institution.

"The spirit of the donation was to keep a nonprofit and community hospital," said Newhall, whose extended family members have contributed almost $2 million to the hospital. "Now we have a Beverly Hills developer trying to come in."

Supporters of the expansion insisted that the community stands to prosper in the long term.

"We think the plan is very sensible and well-balanced and looks to the future for healthcare development," said Marlee Lauffer, chairwoman of Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Health Foundation. Lauffer, who is also a spokeswoman for Newhall Land & Farming Co., said the company has not taken a formal position on the issue.

Roger E. Seaver, Henry Mayo's president and chief executive, said the benefits of development include more on-site doctors and specialty medical services, increased emergency air transport and more jobs.

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