MAIN LIBRARY — A proposed amendment to the Saint John’s Hospital development agreement drew ire from community members Tuesday night when it was suggested that the hospital would find “functionally equivalent parking” to replace a promised 442-space subterranean parking structure.

Saint John’s Hospital entered into a development agreement with City Hall in 1998 to get permission to repair its facilities in the wake of the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

The process was broken into two phases, the first of which included the demolition of a 536,000 square foot building, construction of 475,000 square feet of new facilities, healing garden, north lawn landscaped entry plaza and parking garage.

Of those requirements, the hospital has completed neither the entry plaza nor the parking garage, much to the irritation of its neighbors who complain that the hospital’s workers and patrons take up street parking.

In 2007, a year before the garage was supposed to be completed, the hospital filed an application to amend the development agreement.

That amendment, which originally requested a 10-year stay in construction, evolved into the presentation seen Tuesday.

Rather than construct the garage, which would be expensive, hospital officials requested permission to supply 1,540 on and off-site parking spaces, and operate a full service valet at the Santa Monica Boulevard-facing entry plaza.

Of those spaces, 1,184 would serve staff and physicians, with limited valet parking. Visitors and patients would get approximately 356 spaces, with no self-park option.

The original development agreement included a total of 1,487 spaces, with peak demand by 2013 estimated at approximately 1,300 spaces used.

Incorporated into the proposed amendment are provisions to put in place an “aggressive” transportation demand management program, including carpool enhancements, bicycle parking and showers, a designated employee transportation coordinator and the potential to form a transportation management association for the entire health care district, amongst other provisions.

To mitigate traffic coming out of the entry plaza, where the valet for patients and visitors would be operating, City Hall requested a new signal.

The original application for the amendment was filed in the midst of the Planning Department’s efforts to complete the new land use and circulation element, or LUCE. Any development agreement must comply with the most recent LUCE, which, in part, contributed to the delay of the amendment.

“The focus is on reducing vehicle trips, and the associated parking demand,” said Senior Planner Roxanne Tanemori. “This is supported and envisioned by the LUCE, and this is our opportunity to start implementing those objectives with projects of scale.”

Saint John’s and city staff are still in negotiations regarding further community benefits which would come out of the project, Tanemori said.

Community members present were not placated by the proposal, instead demanding the parking structure they felt was promised under the original development agreement.

“What was in the development agreement better happen,” said former Mid-City Neighbors leader David Cole. “Those parking spots need to be built where they were planned. Their financial issue is not my problem, and it’s not yours either.”

Other speakers noted that the hospital got what it wanted out of the 1998 agreement — a new building and the promise of more when phase two of the project comes up — but that it had cut out the community benefit by first not building the garage, requesting an extension and now trying to kill the project altogether.

Hostility and frustration mounted over the course of the meeting, with one person nearly ejected from the library’s multipurpose room.

A more muted point which came out of the evening was an argument by Chris Harding, Saint John’s land-use attorney, that the development agreement gave the hospital the right to build a parking structure, but did not obligate it to do so.

“The matter is in dispute,” Harding said at the meeting. “What we’re trying to do is resolve that.”

Saint John’s Hospital itself has not yet taken a public position on the obligation versus vested right issue, Harding said.

City staff and hospital officials have much more to work out before the Planning Commission and City Council get a crack at the amendment, including a provision which would force the hospital to build the subterranean garage if the proposed off-site parking couldn’t meet the peak-use requirements.

Such a scenario could be a lot more relevant than many realize.

Under the proposal, Saint John’s Hospital would lease 450 spaces in the Yahoo Center parking lot for the use of physicians and other employees.

In fact, the hospital already leases those spaces, which may violate the Yahoo! Center’s development agreement with City Hall. Staff have scheduled the hearing for the amendment of that development agreement to come immediately before Saint John’s Hospital’s agreement gets to the City Council, in case either the Planning Commission or the council’s decision invalidates part of Saint John’s proposal.

An extra City Council meeting has been tentatively scheduled for May 3 to hear the Yahoo! Center’s agreement, with the Saint John’s Hospital agreement scheduled for the regular meeting on May 10, said Councilman Kevin McKeown.

It’s unclear what would happen if the Yahoo! Center’s development agreement hit a snag at the Planning Commission level, which still does not have firm dates for hearing either agreement.

“The two agreements are co-dependent, at least,” McKeown said. “While I regret the lack of civility demonstrated (Tuesday) night, I regret and share the community’s frustration at how long this parking question has been allowed to remain unresolved, and look forward to doing what I can to get it completed.”

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