For the past two years, my roommate and I have shared a two-bedroom apartment on a nice, quiet block in Mid-City. A few weeks ago, he told me he’d be moving out. More accurately, he told me he was moving in with his brother who had been couch surfing with us for two months (while supposedly looking for a place for himself and his “friend from college”). As it turns out, there was no friend, it was all a lie, and I was on the horns of a dilemma. I didn’t want to move, but I couldn’t swing the rent by myself. Nobody I knew was looking for a roommate situation and didn’t want to live with some stranger I found on Craigslist or Westside Rentals.

I liked the apartment, I love the area, and I really love my neighbors. Well, not all of them. There is one incredibly lousy neighbor on 23rd Street who actually helped me make the eventual decision to move to Sunset Park. This neighbor is probably the biggest landowner in the area with a property that spans the entire block between 20th and 23rd streets and Santa Monica Boulevard and Arizona Avenue. I’ve lived in Boston, New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles and I’ve never seen a property owner show less regard for its neighbors or its community than this one. Of course, I’m talking about Saint John’s Health Center.

In a transparently disingenuous, half-hearted attempt to get “input from the community,” Saint John’s recently held a meeting to discuss the next phase of its decade-long construction project and the abatement and demolition of the South Tower. And to ensure a limited turnout, they scheduled the hour-long meeting at 3 in the afternoon on a Thursday.

The community was represented by about a dozen good people and by me, your friendly neighborhood columnist. Saint John’s sent their director of marketing and business development, Greg Harrison, and the mission and ethics vice president, LaTisha Starbuck. From the construction side, the Shane Miller Co. (listed as the “Owner’s Representative,” whatever that means) sent Project Executive Jake Keshishyan and President Shane Miller. Believe me when I tell you, I did my best to stay cool.

Jake went over the schedule for the next year or so — starting with the South Tower abatement this October through to the beginning of the North Lawn and entry plaza work next May. Then a guy (whose name I didn’t get) talked about the abatement process. Contractors use the word “abatement” because when they say “toxic waste removal,” people tend to freak out. The guy informed us the three-month process would involve getting rid of the building’s insulation, at which point I wanted to know if there were any toxic or hazardous materials in the building. He said there weren’t, then went on to talk about the removal of lead and asbestos. I was confused.

“I thought you said there were no hazardous or toxic materials,” I said. “Now you’re saying there’s lead and asbestos.”

“Well there’s lead, but there’s no lead,” the guy responded.

“I don’t understand that.”

“There’s lead in the building, but not in the insulation,” he explained.

At that point, my B.S. antenna was activated, so I asked if an environmental impact study had been done. Both Jake and the guy gave me that blank stare that kids give you when you catch them in a lie, then looked at Shane Miller (who was sitting in the front row and hadn’t yet identified himself) to rescue them. He turned to me and said, “No.”

I was still cool, though I could tell where this was going. So I asked if they at least had a plan to re-direct traffic out of the parking garage at 20th or their new ER on Arizona Avenue. Their answer was no — and I could feel my face getting hotter when I heard it. After the rest of my neighbors got fired up, I asked my final question. “Do any of you live in Santa Monica?”

“I do,” replied LaTisha Starbuck with a totally straight face. “Well, I live in Santa Monica, six miles outside the border.” That was even more confusing to me than “there’s lead, but there’s no lead,” so I let ‘em have it — then went to find an apartment as far away from Saint John’s as I could get.

Jake and Shane should be ashamed of themselves for claiming to care about the community, but doing nothing to stop construction workers from pilfering parking spaces on a daily basis. LaTisha should be ashamed of herself for lying about where she lives when the word “Ethics” is in her job title, and Greg should be ashamed of himself for his dismal failure in publicizing the meeting when he’s supposed to be a marketing professional.

Most importantly, Saint John’s should be ashamed. When your mission statement says, “We will in the spirit of the Sisters of Charity, reveal God’s healing love by improving the health of the individuals and communities we serve, especially those who are poor and vulnerable,” then there is no excuse for endangering the health of that community with your sewage and toxic waste. I’m talking to you, Lou Lazatin.

Kenny Mack is a multi-platform content provider with four-quadrant crossover appeal who loves his new neighborhood. His past columns are archived at www.ifyoumissedit.com and he can be reached at kennymack@gmail.com

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