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Hospital project a step closer to resuming

March 07, 2009|Maeve Reston

The Los Angeles City Council cleared a hurdle Friday for the expansion of Providence Holy Cross Medical Center, which stalled in October when a judge ordered a halt to construction.

It is still far from clear, however, when work on the four-story hospital wing would resume.

A coalition opposed to the project, formed by neighbors and groups including the Service Employees International Union, which represents healthcare workers, has been battling in court to force the city to perform a more extensive environmental impact report that would address concerns about parking and traffic.

On Friday, council members voted to advance the project with its abbreviated environmental review. City officials must now seek the court's approval to reissue the revoked building permits.

"I don't want to create a false hope that the project is going forward; the truth of the matter is this may be challenged in court," said Councilman Richard Alarcon, who supports the expansion but has also backed the groups favoring more environmental review. "Someday, this project is going to be finished."

Several council members underscored Friday that the delay was costing hundreds of construction jobs -- and what the hospital says would be 250 permanent jobs -- at a time when the number of hospital beds available in the northeast San Fernando Valley has dwindled because of closures.

More than 300 workers were laid off recently after they finished making safety improvements to the partly built wing, Councilman Greig Smith said. "You've got an unsafe, unfinished hospital at a time when we're losing hospital beds, and that's the last thing we need," Smith said.

Smith said Richard Slawson, executive secretary of the Los Angeles and Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council, distributed a letter to every council member listing the names of workers who had lost their jobs. On Friday, Slawson thanked council members for putting them "back to work."

Granada Hills resident Wayde Hunter, a member of the coalition opposing the project, said he was "very disappointed" that the council "caved in to pressure from Providence Holy Cross." Given the continuing concerns about traffic and parking, he said, the facility was "given a free pass because they were a hospital."

"As far as I know we still intend to pursue litigation on this issue," Hunter said. SEIU representatives and the attorney for the coalition, known as Community Advocates for Responsible Expansion at Providence Holy Cross, did not return calls seeking comment.

Tim McOsker, an attorney for the hospital, said the council merely "took the action it thought it took back in November 2007."

"The hospital will get started with the construction work as soon possible," McOsker said.

The plan to add at least 101 beds and a neonatal intensive care unit to the 254-bed hospital in Mission Hills has been caught for more than a year in the legal dispute that pitted construction trade unions against the healthcare workers union.

The healthcare workers union has been in a labor dispute with the parent company that operates Providence Holy Cross. In Los Angeles and other parts of the country, the union has tried to win more leverage over hospital chains by filing challenges to their construction projects using environmental laws.

The city's Planning Commission approved the hospital expansion with the abbreviated environmental review in 2007, but opponents asked the council to overturn that decision and pursue the more extensive environmental review. Eight of the council's 15 members supported the more extensive review, two votes fewer than needed under city law to overturn the commission's decision.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Thomas I. McKnew Jr. ordered a halt to construction in October after determining that the City Council used the wrong process for advancing the project and ordered it to take a new vote.


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