David Mendez

Redondo Beach Residents eye Healthy Living Campus plans

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Beach Cities Health District’s Healthy Living Campus plan would replace the existing South Bay Hospital with a 592,700 square foot development. Images courtesy BCHD

by David Mendez

There were a few common themes shared by residents attending Beach Cities Health District’s first scoping meeting for its planned Healthy Living Campus redevelopment, held at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center on Monday night.

The meeting was the first step toward satisfying California Environmental Quality Act obligations, in which BCHD collected comments that would help shape a report discussing the project’s likely environmental impacts and ways to mitigate them.

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Largely, attendees were worried about traffic. Some spoke about construction-related traffic; others, the interactions between cyclists and cars. Many more were worried about potentially loading more cars onto Prospect Avenue, a lesser traffic arterial that’s already a busy throughway between the Beach Cities. A few other residents were worried about the facility’s potential strain on Redondo’s first responders and emergency services.

But a few other concerns kept peeking through, though they were less environmental and more to the merits of redeveloping BCHD’s former South Bay Hospital building into a facility that included as many as 420 assisted living units for older adults, at least 60 of which would go to memory and Alzheimer’s disease patients.

“We’re very proud of the community and happy about the engagement,” said BCHD CEO Tom Bakaly. “This is the public’s project, and it needs to meet their needs.”

For BCHD, the project is more than just creating housing for a region that will sorely need space for its rapidly aging populace. It’s a path toward fulfilling its mission of community-wide well-being by expanding its medically certified Center for Health and Fitness gym, building a new Child Development Center, and continuing to provide medical office space at the old hospital site.

The crown jewel of the project, BCHD has said, is the Community Wellness Pavilion, a round building at the heart of the project that would be an education center, public gathering, and meeting location, and would provide space for medical offices and research.

Overall, the project would consist of 592,700 square feet of development, 331,800 square feet more than the existing facility. The buildings would be shorter than what currently exists, however—between three and four stories and topping out at a 60-foot maximum height, versus the three-to-five story existing facility, that tops out at 75 feet.

The project is proposed to take place in three phases over more than a decade; each phase is so far planned to happen in three-year chunks, with a two-year break between each phase. Should the project take place according to the plan described in the initial study, the final phase would be completed by Summer 2033.

The redevelopment is necessary, in part, due to the age of the facility; the South Bay Hospital building requires “substantial seismic upgrades“ according to an initial environmental study. Demolishing the building outright would do away with potentially expensive retrofitting.

The Healthy Living Campus would be developed in three phases over a span of 13 years, completing, at earliest, in 2033.

“Especially in light of the recent earthquakes we’ve had, our goal is to address the seismic issue for that aging hospital,” Bakaly said. “Right now it doesn’t meet current standards.”

Further, the district hopes to retain or attract medical office tenants, who have left the facility for newer pastures in recent years, taking their rent payments with them.

But what many residents see is a grab for housing, which is a hard sell in development-averse Redondo Beach.

“Why not sell that land and put this property in Manhattan Beach?” asked Delia Vecchi, who lives blocks away from the proposed redevelopment site and feels Redondo already has too many facilities for older adults. “This is another tragedy for Redondo Beach!”

Pockets of the roughly 45 residents attending Monday evening’s meeting would be familiar to many who have followed development politics in Redondo over the past years, including Rescue Our Waterfront President Wayne Craig, who was born at the former South Bay Hospital.

“There’s been a revisioning of the mission…it makes sense to revisit it,” Craig said. “My concern is that, while they’re focusing on ways to help to finance, the public is perceiving it as a service that they’re not going to benefit from.”

Redondo Beach residents, Craig said, are concerned that they’ll not be able to afford the potential price tag on the units.

“Unless they have a way of allowing a certain populace to have it at a lower income, or somehow subsidizing it in a way that area residents feel they’re not being shut out at the expense of our more affluent neighbors, like Manhattan Beach and Palos Verdes,” Craig said.

Prices for the units have not yet been determined; to date, BCHD has yet to even announce a partner in running the facility. The district has done so in the past, working with Silverado Memory Care on the BCHD campus, and in the Sunrise assisted living facility in Hermosa Beach, effectively making the Health District a part-owner.

“We’ve heard over the last two years that affordability is important,” Bakaly said, but the matter could come down to a philosophical decision of balance among BCHD’s Board of Directors. Is the community better served by providing subsidies, putting 20 percent of its units at lower rates? “Or do you do what the health district has done in the past, using our revenues to continue to provide free programs to lots of people?”

What’s clear is that the project is still in its early stages — and somewhat malleable. The first phase, which would develop the Center for Health and Fitness, the Child Development Center, 102 assisted living units and 60 memory care units, replacing units that would be lost during Silverado’s demolition, is the one the district is most confident it can finance and complete. The later phases are dependent on later financing and what market necessity bears out.

Though the Health District acknowledges that the project is subject to change — many projects often do take a haircut when they come before discretionary bodies, as BCHD is bound to come before Redondo Beach’s Planning Commission, if not its City Council — it’s standing behind its existing project.

The current iteration of the project, with the Community Wellness Pavilion centerpiece, came after its previous version was panned and shot down by residents. The last year has seen major input from BCHD’s Community Working Group, which includes former elected officials, community leaders, and “slow-growth” development activists.

“I think we have a much better project than originally proposed,” Bakaly said. “I would emphasize the connection to the neighborhood, that the building is more connected with Dominguez Park, it’s more intergenerational…it’s now three acres of open space, focused on where the community can gather.”

It was clear to Bakaly and the Health District that the original Healthy Living Campus was “stressing people out.”

“That’s not OK for us,” Bakaly said, alluding to the Health District’s programs to reduce stress among residents. “We want to make sure we’re addressing all of the environmental impacts, and that’s why we need the community’s help in determining those. I hope people will turn out to additional meetings to continue to be engaged.”

Two more scoping meetings will take place: Thursday, July 18, at West High School’s Cafeteria 4, 20401 Victor St., Torrance; and Monday, July 22 at the Hermosa Beach City Council Chambers, 1315 Valley Drive. Both meetings take place from 6 to 8 p.m., with an open house format.

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