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Santa Paula to Study Builder’s Offer for Hospital

Times Staff Writer

Hoping to get the area’s only hospital back up and running, the Santa Paula City Council has directed its city manager to investigate a developer’s offer to purchase and reopen bankrupt Santa Paula Memorial Hospital.

The council, during a special meeting Thursday night, voted to have City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz complete by April 19 a detailed report on a proposal by Santa Paula Development Partners to buy the 29-acre hospital site for as much as $14 million, with an eye toward building an assisted-living facility on part of the property.

Bobkiewicz’s study would provide the council with enough background to take an official position on the proposal, he said. The nonprofit hospital is governed by a five-member board of trustees with no ties to the city.

“We have no direct connection, no authority” in the sale of the hospital, Bobkiewicz said of his directive. “But it all boils down to the council’s role of providing leadership in a community.”

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The council is eager to reopen the hospital, which served Santa Paula and Fillmore for 42 years until it was closed Dec. 19. The institution filed for bankruptcy protection three days after its closure, citing about $9 million in debt.

Since then, those in need of hospitalization or advanced emergency room treatment have had to travel to Santa Clarita, Ventura or Oxnard.

The hospital board turned down a purchase offer from the investment group in November, board Chairman Phil Romney said this week. But Romney said that offer did not have any “significant money attached to it.”

He said the board would be willing to consider the new offer.

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Romney also said the City Council could play a significant role in reviving the hospital. For example, he said, the council could change the zoning on the property to allow more development on the site, maximizing its value. “The development and ultimate sale of the property would result in a substantial return,” Romney said.

If the hospital is reopened, Romney said he hoped it would resume operating at its present site until a new facility could be built at another location. The old site could then be fully developed.

He said talks had broken down with Ventura County officials over a possible takeover or merger of the hospital with the public healthcare system. But county officials said Friday that, while they rejected a counteroffer from Santa Paula hospital trustees, the door remained open to a possible deal in the future, provided it posed no financial risk to the county.

Romney said the board was talking to other developers in addition to Santa Paula Development Partners, which is allied with Arizona-based Pinnacle Group. Pinnacle is seeking to build multimillion-dollar estates in neighboring Adams Canyon.

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The City Council on Thursday also asked Bobkiewicz to return May 3 with options for creating a nonprofit corporation to operate the hospital and to begin soliciting names of residents willing to sit on a newly configured hospital board of trustees.

“We want to identify people, so if the board chooses to resign ... we would have a list of qualified community members to step in,” Bobkiewicz said.

If the present board decides to continue, the city manager said, the council has said that it would look at possibly taking over the hospital property through eminent domain and going to court to remove the trustees as the facility’s governing body. “We basically have set a deadline,” Councilwoman Mary Ann Krause said. “We need to have the pieces in place so that we can take steps, or we can assist others in taking steps, to ensure that there’s a hospital.”

Greg Boyd, general manager of Santa Paula Development Partners, praised city officials for their stance Friday. “The City Council is taking the right step,” he said. The developers are looking for “some sort of solution that allows the hospital to remain there until a new one is built,” Boyd said.

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Pinnacle, which owns 5,000 acres in Adams Canyon, wants to build 300 to 400 multimillion-dollar estates on the site, which lies outside the city’s growth boundaries. Such a project would require approval by the county Board of Supervisors.


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