Sandbox: We Are All In This Together 

by Tom Bakaly

CEO,  Beach Cities Health District

In a recently completed, statistically significant survey of registered voters in the Beach Cities, 66% of the respondents said there is need for additional funding for community health and wellness services in the Beach Cities.  The poll also found that Beach Cities Health District (BCHD) received a high — 59% — overall favorability rating.  Since 1955, this community has a proven track record for coming together with BCHD to focus on health issues such as the Blue Zones Project, the COVID-19 Pandemic, childhood obesity in Redondo and now, the mental health of young people in our community.   

However, as BCHD has worked with the community for more than seven years on reimagining our 1960 building and campus, I have been surprised by the polarizing, all-or-nothing stance some people have taken regarding our campus project.  Over the years, we have demonstrated that we are willing to not only listen, but also take action on the things we have heard. 

We have reduced the number of proposed units and made three revisions to the plan before it was adopted in 2021 after the certification of an Environmental Impact Report.  We have also delayed implementation of the plan as we continue to respond to concerns and create a healthy campus that everyone can be proud of. 

A week or so ago, I reached out to an Easy Reader OpEd writer to speak about some of our thoughts as the BCHD Board considers placing a $30 million health and wellness bond measure on the November ballot. Specifically, I was going to mention that if the Board goes forward with the bond and if it is approved, our reliance on our potential development partner would be reduced, and we would be able to make the assisted living component of the project more palatable (i.e., fewer units) in the future. There will be no gifts to the developer, as erroneously speculated in the OpEd column.  Why would we as a community do that?   

Last week’s OpEd column also mischaracterized the action of the Local Area Formation Committee (LAFCO), which oversees Special Districts in their County.  They simply aligned our sphere of influence with our boundaries, something that has been done uniformly for Special Districts throughout the state.  Last week’s OpEd also erroneously claimed BCHD has not been a “good steward” of taxpayer monies, ignoring the fact that BCHD has delivered a better than 3-to-1 return on tax dollars for many years, and the District has been recognized for its financial reporting and transparency consistently over the last 15 years. 

Last week’s column also implied that the one grant allcove Beach Cities received from the state for $6.3 million should be enough to cover the construction. When the South Bay Hospital building was originally constructed, it was done through a combination of state and federal grants plus a local bond measure, a similar mix to what BCHD aims to do for allcove today. It’s important to fully complete this project, as 55% of enrolled participants hail from the Beach Cities (with another 18.6% coming from Torrance), demonstrating the positive impact the allcove center is making.

As someone who is truly dedicated to communicating with the community and responding to their feedback (I think I have demonstrated that in over a decade of public service in the South Bay), I was disappointed that the OpEd writer did not return my call. Just another missed opportunity for him to work collaboratively and cooperatively with us. 

 

Challenges and Solutions 

The actual issue is pretty simple. The 64-year-old hospital building has reached the end of its useful life and, for safety reasons, needs to come down.  BCHD has spent years working with the community and investing in a plan for the continued success of the district. We have a plan for the campus that reflects who we are as a leading preventive and community health agency.  We are pursuing a public-private partnership (P3) as a way to accomplish the plan, just as we did years ago with the office buildings at the front of the property.  The financial markets have, for now, shifted.  So, we are exploring all options by seeing if there is interest in pursuing a bond for the public aspects of the project, such as safety, open space, and environmental and space enhancements that our youth are asking for. This may create a specific project that perhaps people with concerns about our project can live with. 

If the board moves forward with a bond, the election results will have significant impacts on the future of the BCHD site. If a bond passes, the size of the Healthy Living Campus Project may be reduced. In fact, we may be able to reduce the number of Residential Care for the Elderly (RCFE) units by as much as 30 percent. In addition, the building height could be reduced from six stories to just four. 

If we don’t go forward with the bond or if it does not pass, and we are unable to move forward with the public-private partnership, the public open space we hope to create on the campus will be far more difficult to fund. In addition, BCHD would be saddled with approximately $750,000 per year to demolish the 514 Building, which must still be removed. We would also need to consider additional cuts to BCHD programs and services, alternative demolition scenarios (such as leaving the 514 Building unoccupied) or new funding options. These service level impacts will undoubtedly be felt by the community.  In the meantime, we have a risk assessment that says we can operate the building within acceptable risk standards until late 2026 or early 2027.  

 

Let’s Work Together 

What is not so simple is continuing to work as a community to develop consensus about what is best for all of us.  This is not about they or them, it is about us, whatever the decision is.  Let’s stop making this someone else’s problem and playing the blame game.  Let’s come together like we know how to do.  We hope the community will join us in the discussion and refer to bchd.org for additional information. 

Tom Bakaly

CEO

Beach Cities Health District

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