Providence St. John’s Hospital works to build community support for a $2-billion construction plan that’s been 22 years in the making

By Evan Henerson

An architect’s rendering for the hospital’s expansion plan emphasizes open space Image courtesy of Providence St. John’s Health Center

An architect’s rendering for the hospital’s expansion plan emphasizes open space
Image courtesy of Providence St. John’s Health Center

Two decades ago, damage from the Northridge earthquake caused what was then known as Saint John’s Hospital to downsize, reducing the Santa Monica medical center’s number of beds by nearly half. Now, with a development agreement calling for hundreds of millions of dollars in new construction and upgrades, the mid-city institution that has long viewed itself as a community nonprofit hospital is shaking things up. And by no means will hospital visitors and patients be the only ones to notice the changes.

Under the auspices of Providence Health and Services, the facility now known as Providence Saint John’s Health Center (PSJHC) is rolling out upgrade plans for groups throughout the city to review. The photographs accompanying schematic renderings of the center’s extensive Phase 2 master plan depict researchers hard at work in laboratories, but also trees and open parkways, senior citizens exercising outdoors and mothers pushing delighted toddlers in swings.

That’s not accidental. Acute care will continue in the already existing medical center located between Arizona Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard, and the addition of nearly 2,900 parking spaces is a major component of the expansion.

But the development of the hospital-owned property between Santa Monica Boulevard and Broadway — much of which has been unused by Saint John’s since the 1994 temblor — looks to put a new emphasis on ambulatory care, outpatient services, research and wellness. According to project officials, this emphasis will better meet the changing demands of healthcare in the 21st century.
PSJHC administrators say they plan to open up its campus for greater community use. By the time the hospital has fully realized its proposed expansion, medical center administrators envision changes both to their own facility and to the surrounding neighborhood.

“Health care is going through a lot of change. It’s changing almost daily in the presidential process. Every health care organization in the country is doing this kind of soul searching, trying to find out what its mission is going forward,” said Kenneth Lee of Perkins Eastman, one of two architectural firms overseeing the master plan.

“It’s not necessarily about beds,” Lee continued. “Our development agreement has health promotion, wellness and health education. It’s focused on other allied programs to create more of a population health approach.”

The master plan calls for moving streets and erecting a pedestrian bridge over Santa Monica Boulevard. Medical center administrators plan to add what they say is much-needed conference space, additional housing for patients’ family members and visitors, and enough parking — an estimated 2,880 spaces — to both accommodate visitors and to free the hospital from having to lease offsite parking.

There is discussion of bike-sharing stations and a shuttle route designed to link up to the incoming Expo Line light rail service. With the city requiring that 35% of the south campus be preserved as open space, the master plan envisions a series of landscaped pedestrian paths that weave around the housing units and connect up with the medical center entrance plaza, which will also be expanded and made more user-friendly.

In addition to addressing the hospital’s parking needs, project officials say that existing facilities currently located in aging buildings will be among the first to receive attention. The John Wayne Cancer Institute, housed in a converted official building, requires a facility that is better suited for research needs, say project officials. The hospital’s childhood and family development center, a daycare center for St. John’s families, will also get a new building on the south campus.

Project architects and consultants conservatively estimate that it could be more than 18 months before an environmental study required for project approval first reaches the city’s Planning Commission and then ultimately the City Council for final approval. Completion of all five phases of the master plan is estimated to take 25 years at an estimated cost of $2 billion.

“This is a long-range plan,” PSJHC Community Ombudsperson Lindsay Barker said at the conclusion of a recent presentation of project plans to the Santa Monica Mid City Neighborhood. “We understand there will be new technology and new forms of alternative transportation. We don’t want to make projections 20 to 25 years down the road and have it be completely wrong.”

Even with formal go-aheads up to two years away, PSJHC is well into its community outreach effort. Meetings began in 2015 and included a community-wide meeting last summer. Project officials expect outreach presentations to continue well beyond when the first shovels hit the dirt. The hospital has met with multiple nearby homeowner associations as well as with representatives of North of Montana, Santa Monica Spoke, Santa Monica Next, the Geneva Plaza retirement community and Oscar de la Torre of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

These good-neighboring efforts are appreciated, say community activists — especially since several residents are still smarting over what they feel were unproductive discussions with the hospital’s former operators during
Phase 1 renovations.

“The plan for expansion has some history that some of the neighbors have not healed from, mainly the lack of parking,” said De la Torre, who was planning to meet with project officials a second time as a leader of the Pico Neighborhood Association. “My hope is to work closely with the residents directly impacted to ensure that their concerns are addressed. We all want to support Providence and see the positives continue, but we also want to minimize any negative impacts.”

Occupants of existing senior housing located on the south property have raised concerns about the impacts of traffic in and out of the medical center’s entrance, along Santa Monica Boulevard and along new streets that will cut between Santa Monica Boulevard and Broadway.

Homeowners in the condominium complex on Schader Drive have asked that the plans be redesigned so that proposed new visitor and multi-family housing will not block their views, according to Lee. Representatives of Geneva Plaza have also weighed in with concerns over whether the potential relocation and privatizing of streets will allow emergency vehicles to access the center.

“We’re listening,” said Joe Woods, president of the Westminster Towers Corp., which operates Geneva Plaza. “We really appreciate them letting us know what their plans are. The big problem is parking, which is a problem everywhere in Santa Monica.”