Mission Hospital outbid the state for a South Laguna property that city officials and environmental activists thought they were on the verge of acquiring for open space.
Earlier this month, the City Council had approved the purchase of what is known as the Domanskis property with Coastal Conservancy funds, but the hospital beat the city to the punch. In a statement released Thursday, the hospital announced the acquisition of the property at 31800 and 31802 Mar Vista and two other parcels.
"It was a disappointment," said Laguna Canyon Foundation President Derek Ostensen, who had put several years' effort into the city's acquisition of the property for open space.
No details of the purchase will be made public, according to the hospital announcement, which went on to state that the purchase was made to prepare for future needs of the hospital, without identifying the needs.
According to the statement, the hospital has many initiatives to accomplish in the next five years to make sure the community gets high-quality care.
The statement acknowledged the "passion" in the community for the acquisition of open space and indicated the hospital's willingness to work with the city to determine the best use for the property and concluded with a declaration that there are no current plans.
City Manager John Pietig declined to comment on the hospital's purchase.
Some environmental activists were not so circumspect, firing off angry comments to the Coastline Pilot.
"I am outraged," Charlotte Masarik wrote. "The property features a popular public trail connecting to Badlands Park and Aliso and Wood Canyons Park."
Masarik said the parcel is integral to the city's open space holdings and habitat of the endangered southern maritime chaparral, which would have been protected by the city.
"This is a blatant rejection of good-neighborliness by the hospital and, quite frankly, I am shocked that they are already in escrow without any of us knowing anything about this pending purchase," Masarik said.
She questioned when Mission got into the bidding and its motives for buying the property, concluding it was a plot to develop the property.
Christine Hynes is also of the opinion that Mission's reason for buying the property was to develop it, calling it more like the actions of a for-profit corporation than a local community hospital.
"Good neighbors don't swoop in after someone else has done all the work and steal the deal away," wrote Hynes, who estimated the city would have closed its deal by the end of June.
"What they did may not be illegal, but I don't believe it fits with the healing mission of the Catholic Church to support social and moral [principles]."
The council voted unanimously June 7 to acquire the property at an estimated $760,000, including closing costs, to be covered by Proposition 12 funds, provided the Planning Commission determined it was consistent with city's general plan. The commission made the finding the next night at its regularly scheduled meeting.
The city would have leased the property, which was four lots amounting to eight acres, to the county.
The acquisition was supported by the Laguna Canyon Foundation, Laguna Greenbelt Inc., Laguna Canyon Conservancy and OC Parks.