I’ve heard the expressions “crap flows down hill” and “good cop/bad cop” thousands of times, but I never understood them until last week. Oddly, it was the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System who brought those phrases into focus at the monthly meeting on the progress of the decade-long construction project at Saint John’s.
After the August meeting to get “input from the community,” I wrote about five people connected to this project — three from Saint John’s (CEO Lou Lazatin, Mission & Ethics Vice President LaTisha Starbuck and Marketing & Business Development Director Greg Harrison) and two from the Shane Miller Co. (President Shane Miller and Project Executive Jake Keshishyan). Four of these people attended both that meeting and the one last week, but Lou Lazatin was a no-show. Twice.
I have to recognize the night-and-day difference between the two meetings — at least in terms of the jobs that LaTisha and Greg did. Last month, the only reason anyone even knew a meeting was taking place was because a neighbor made copies of a notice and delivered them door-to-door. This month, anyone who signed in at the previous meeting was sent a notice and an agenda in the mail. Last month’s meeting was scheduled at 3 p.m., while this month’s was at a more convenient 7 p.m.
Neighbors voiced concerns about delivery trucks and ambulances at the last meeting, now there is a commitment to structured delivery routes and both the fire chief and the EMS director made promises that were very reassuring coming from the top. And the hospital even provided the Administrator On-Call’s number to get immediate attention paid to any neighbor’s concerns at any time (310-829-5511). That was the “good cop” portion of the program.
Last month, I wondered what an “Owner’s Representative” like the Shane Miller Co. does. The hospital says they know how to provide patient care, not how to deal with the general contractors, subcontractors, vendors, and various city, county, and state agencies associated with a real estate development project. That’s where people like Shane Miller enter the picture. He’s the bad cop. It’s his job to say and do the things the hospital won’t. One of the most important things Lou Lazatin won’t say is that the reconstruction of Saint John’s Health Center after the 1994 Northridge earthquake has turned into a real estate development project.
Real estate developers — the deep-pocketed dealmakers with the best lawyers, the most influential politicians and all the time in the world to beat up or wait out the other side — are not to be trusted. In this case, Saint John’s hired Harding, Larmore, Mullen, Jakle, Kutcher & Kozal to draft and negotiate its infamous development agreement with the city of Santa Monica (good luck finding it online, by the way — it’s like the document doesn’t exist), somehow got the votes of every member of the City Council (except Mike Feinstein), and bought itself 17 years of development rights in the heart of Mid-City at one of the worst traffic choke-points in Santa Monica.
Because of the mind-blowing 29,000 new daily car trips in an early environmental impact report, the development agreement committed Saint John’s to constructing 422 subterranean parking spaces. Their lawyers will say the language calls for the hospital to make “every reasonable effort” or its “best effort” to construct those parking spaces; but as far as I’m concerned, if the Sisters of Mercy say they’re going to do something, that should be the same as a commitment.
When asked why the spaces are nowhere to be found in the construction plans, Shane Miller said the hospital intends to ask for a 10-year deferment — 11 years after promising to deliver those parking spots. If that deferment is granted by our City Council, planning for the construction of the spaces won’t begin for another eight years. I asked Shane if that meant that a child born when the development agreement was finalized would have gone through McKinley Elementary, Lincoln Middle, Santa Monica High School and be ready to graduate from Santa Monica College before a single one of those parking spaces had been provided. He said he wasn’t going to answer that question.
No meeting would be complete without a blatant lie, and Jake and Shane didn’t disappoint. A design flaw makes it all but impossible for the hospital to pump its sewage into the city pipes, so it’s drained into trucks and hauled away. For at least eight hours every week while the trucks are being filled, the entire area reeks of sewage (the students at McKinley have recess less than 200 yards away). Jake said the hospital’s pumps aren’t designed to work with the city system. Shane confirmed they actually are, but the flaw is too expensive to fix. So the goal is to “mitigate” the impact on the neighbors of pumping sewage into trucks twice a week, every week, forever.
Meanwhile, Lou Lazatin’s crap flows downhill into our community and onto our kids and she doesn’t have the decency to show up and answer for it.
Kenny Mack is a multi-platform content provider with four-quadrant crossover appeal who loves living in Sunset Park more every day. His past columns are archived at www.ifyoumissedit.com and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.