Santa Paula Seeks to Revive Talks

Times Staff Writer

The Santa Paula City Council has agreed to spend up to $15,000 for a mediator to work on a partnership between Santa Paula Memorial Hospital and the Ventura County health care system.

The council voted unanimously Monday night to approve the expenditure in an effort to keep open the Santa Clara Valley's only hospital.

Negotiations recently broke down after county officials complained that the financially troubled 39-bed hospital failed to turn over all relevant documentation for review, a charge vehemently denied by hospital trustees.

Santa Paula and Fillmore officials have urged both sides to return to the bargaining table to discuss the proposed merger.

Santa Paula's peacemaking efforts come after the state attorney general notified the city last week that it would not intervene in the dispute. The city had accused the hospital board of breaching its fiduciary duty to keep the facility open and financially viable.

Although the city could file a civil lawsuit against the board, the council instead focused on reviving negotiations.

"The city opted not to go ahead with its own legal action, for the moment, and instead allow mediation to have a chance," said Santa Paula City Atty. Karl H. Berger. "The goal of the cities is to keep the hospital open."

Councilwoman Mary Ann Krause was chosen as Santa Paula's primary representative, if negotiations resume. Councilman Ray Luna was selected as an alternate and City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz would assist negotiators.

"We'll get people together as fast as we can," Bobkiewicz said Tuesday. "Everybody understands the urgency at this point."

Meanwhile, the Fillmore City Council was scheduled to vote Tuesday on a resolution to spend up to $10,000 on the mediator and to appoint one member to the negotiation team.

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