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The revised master plan for the Beach Cities' Health District Healthy Living Campus reduces the overall footprint of the development and adds green space. The plans were put on pause for almost a year as the health district addressed community concerns during 2018 about too much pavement and traffic. (Jan. 2019 rendering courtesy of BCHD)

Following another round of public meetings this month over a proposed $530 million Healthy Living Campus in Redondo Beach, officials at the Beach Cities Health District were taking it all in at their offices near Redondo Union High School this week.

“I think what I’m left with,” said Tom Bakaly, the health district’s CEO, “is that I’m glad we spent a year to take a broader look. The tone and the tenor are different now than a year before.”

There are still plenty of people who have questions, however, about the proposed 600,000 square-foot development that plans to replace the nearly 60-year-old former South Bay Hospital building off Prospect Avenue near Beryl Street and replace it with a sleek and modern 420-unit assisted living center and other multi-generational program space.

The biggest questions are about the project’s impacts on the surrounding neighborhoods, both during construction and operation. The projected 15-year time span for total completion has also raised eyebrows.

The entire project is planned to be constructed in three phases, roughly three years each, over a period of 15 years. That’s a lot of heavy trucks through the area, said Mark Nelson, a local resident in the Beryl Heights neighborhood, who serves on the health district’s Community Working Group.

“This is a big project that will impact traffic with tens of thousands of heavy trucks and hundreds of thousands of worker commuting trips added to one single block,” Nelson said.

Construction impacts

Limiting impacts on the community seems essential to keep residents and business tenants on the property happy while construction is ongoing.

“We are an organization whose goal is to reduce stress. So if our Healthy Living Campus is stressing people out then that’s a problem for us,” said Bakaly during an interview Wednesday, July 25. “That’s why we’re all ears about the impacts.”

Some impacts during construction are unavoidable, but possible increased traffic in surrounding neighborhoods once the project is completed concerns Bruce Steele, a Torrance resident and another member of the working group convened by the district.

Steele said the traffic in the Torrance neighborhood to the east of the site is already bad and has resulted in some serious accidents in recent years.

“Unless BCHD, Redondo Beach and Torrance take steps to reduce or eliminate through traffic on Flagler Lane to reduce the environmental impact from the likely huge increase in traffic and parking resulting from this proposal,” Steele said in written comments, “the safety of the students, homeowners and other users of the streets in our Torrance Neighborhood will be put at serious risk.”

$26 million in reserve funds

The health district was formed in 1960 to fund a then-rural hospital, but has since morphed into a modern organization with 40-plus programs focused on preventative health. The district received about $3.7 million this year in property tax revenues from the cities of Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach. But taxes only account for 26% of the district’s revenue. The rest is generated mostly through leases, partnerships and fees.

In recent years, the district has been socking away money, building its reserve funds to about $26 million. Bakaly said it plans to put a large portion of that money toward a down payment on the new Healthy Living Campus, leaving roughly six month's worth of operating costs in reserves.

The rest of the $530 million project would be funded through a partnership with an operator of the assisted living facility — which is yet to be determined — and likely through a certain amount of borrowing, Bakaly said.

Any profits the health district makes over time on the deal it pledges will go toward improving and increasing the services the district offers to the community. And that’s exactly the point, according to Bakaly, who said the district is at a crossroads with its current infrastructure. If it waits too much longer, its aging assets could hold the district back, he said.

“What keeps me up at night is that we have an old building that doesn’t meet current seismic codes,” Bakaly said of the aging former South Bay Hospital building.

Since taking over the hospital site from Tenet Healthcare in 1998, the Beach Cities Health District has become a pioneer in preventative, community-based health services, earning national recognition for successes such as lowered childhood obesity rates.

Bakaly said the idea for the district as it adapted over the past 20 years was to fill in the gaps where the health care system was falling short, such as nutrition, fitness programs and help for seniors.

“We’re not shy about it,” Bakaly said. “We are leveraging tax dollars so we can provide more services the community says it wants without property taxes having to go up.”

Assisted living need

In envisioning the Healthy Living Campus, Bakaly said the district will be filling another need, which is assisted living.

The need for 360 new assisted-living units, he said, was identified through a market study and a Gallup poll. How affordable the proposed assisted living facility will be for residents is still unclear — with the district so far suggesting market-rate prices, which can be as much as $10,000 per month. The 15-year master plan includes the construction of 420 total units, 60 of which will be memory care, housing between 450 to 545 residents.

The memory care units and the first 100 assisted living units are expected to be completed in the first phase of construction beginning in the summer of 2021 and running until 2024. At that time, a Child Development Center on the corner of Flagler Lane and Beryl Street would also be constructed along with an underground parking structure.

The hospital building would then be demolished and green space within the campus would be created.

The second phase of construction scheduled for 2026 to 2029 would involve construction of the Community Wellness Pavilion, intended to provide a meeting space, cafe, exercise center and multi-generational wellness programs. An additional 100 assisted living units would also come online.

It’s in the final construction phase from 2030 to 2033, that the campus will really come together, Bakaly said. But it’s not an “all or nothing” deal.

Following the Environmental Impact Report, which residents will have a chance to comment on likely sometime early next year, the project will then go before the Redondo Beach Planning Commission followed by the City Council if it’s appealed.

Bakaly said the district would first apply for a conditional use permit to complete the first phase of construction and seek additional approvals before the various stages begin.

For some residents, however, it’s just too much. Steve Ramskill, who recently moved to the Torrance neighborhood bordering the property five years ago, said he was worried about the overall effects to quality of life, especially for his 8-year-old son who suffers from asthma.

“I am now faced with a serious decision as to whether I want my children to remember the vast portion of their time at their family home having a construction site in their back yard or to time the sale of my property to minimize any financial loss based on what effect this project will have on our home values,” Ramskill wrote in an email.

He said he attended a recent scoping meeting held this month at West High School when the impacts became more apparent.

“It wasn’t until I attended the Torrance meeting at West High School last week,” Ramskill said, “that the magnitude and foreseeable impact became clear and deeply concerning and upsetting.”

Members of the public can submit comments regarding the environmental impacts of the project until July 29 to EIR@BCHD.org. General comments can be sent to HLCinfo@BCHD.org.

Contact Lisa Jacobs lisa.jacobs@TBRnews.com or follow her on Twitter @lisaannjacobs.

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