City manager refutes hospital claims

City manager refutes hospital claimsRepresentatives of the city, Ridgecrest Regional Hospital and its associated consultants and attorneys and the Caltrans Division of Aeronautics were in a meeting at press time to discuss the path forward in resolving a conflict between RRH’s proposed Emergency Department expansion and surrounding developments.

On Wednesday evening, Ridgecrest City Council hosted a special meeting so that City Manager Ron Strand could address claims made by RRH CEO Jim Suver in the News Review.

Suver had told the News Review that changing directives of city staff had significantly hampered RRH’s ability to move forward with its $30-million expansion — which would include moving its existing helipad and a modified flight path.

He noted that because the hospital consultants were originally told by former Director of Economic Development Gary Parsons that the city had an existing height restriction on the frontage of China Lake Boulevard, it was only when a proposed Holiday Inn Express came before the city’s Planning Commission that RRH discovered that it would potentially have a conflict in its medivac operations.

In his presentation, Strand denied that city officials ever gave such direction to hospital representatives and said that it was the hospital that failed to file an application under the Division of Aeronautics.

“As you well know, the last two weeks we’ve had articles in the paper that were extremely derogatory toward the city and painted a picture that I feel is untrue.”

Strand added that the city supports the hospital development; “however, the hospital has not been forthcoming with very important information concerning the flight path.”

His 50-minute presentation included excerpts from previous planning commission meetings, as well as highlights from the discussions that have passed between the city and hospital representatives.

“The newspaper article referred to something about ‘Oh, we had a conversation,’ or something like that, and ‘so-and-so promised,’” said Assistant City Attorney Lloyd Pilchen.

Without a clear application, and approval, in writing, the city cannot approve any development, he said. “When they city considers something, they need all the facts in front of them.”

Strand also showed that city staff researched requirements and found that the proposed flightpath clears the proposed hotel development by three feet.

However, the flight path could still potentially conflict with three adjacent lots, said Strand. To avoid future complications, RRH needs a zone overlay to impose the necessary restrictions. At the time of the meeting, said Strand, the hospital still had not filed the necessary application with the Division of Aeronautics.

“It’s possible this could get done,” said Pilchen. “The city has the power to impose building height restrictions. But it has to be done with an application, public hearings, planning commission and city council meetings. There’s a process.”

“Any kind of unwritten agreement with Mr. Parsons, who is no longer with us, and any business development — if it’s not in writing it isn’t. It just isn’t,” said Councilman Wallace Martin. “So I don’t hold too much weight on the first part of it.”

In wrapping up his presentation, Strand indicated that the hospital and the hotel developers were also in the process of negotiating a navigation easement agreement.

He also advised council about the meeting between city, hospital and Division of Aeronautics representatives. He said that meeting was the best path forward for a solution.

Francis Park, an attorney for RRH, noted that part of the confusion is that based on a 2018 agreement between the city and the hospital, RRH agreed to pursue approval of the helipad construction under the California Public Utilities Code.

“It’s not just as simple as submitting an application to the DOA,” he said.

While that division has been reviewing plans for some time, and the proposed flight path appears to have the aforementioned three-foot clearance, he said, final approval is based on the verification of the new helipad elevation and hotel — neither of which has been constructed.

This is why RRH has sought to partner with the city to work toward a resolution, he said.

“These conditions are essential to the hospital,” said Park.

The hospital cannot move forward until it knows there is nothing that jeopardizes the health and safety of the community and its patients, he said.

He agreed that the city’s proposed zone overlay was a good solution, and that RRH wants to work with city staff to expedite it.

Park said the hospital has been working diligently with state and governmental agencies to get permits and approvals, spending millions of dollars and countless hours in the process.

“One thing I’ll say is that I don’t even think it’s appropriate that this meeting is even happening,” said Chris Ellis, a resident who spoke during public comment.

“The fact that we are providing a one-sided set of facts based on a limited review of data that supports whatever position the city council and staff want to present is unfortunate.”

He also reminded the council that the hospital’s endeavor to move its existing helipad was in response to residents’ complaints from the neighboring properties to RRH.

However, he said, he is encouraged by the apparent willingness to work together.

“Rather than worrying about who did what, why don’t we focus on how to get this fixed?”

Members of the council and staff said that they were refuting claims made in the newspapers.

“There is no attempt to poke anyone in the nose,” said Mayor Peggy Breeden. “We are just presenting the facts as we know them, as we see them.”

“Why are we having this meeting if we already have a solution?” asked Ellis.

Suver was not in attendance at the special meeting. However, he told the News Review, he is looking forward to working with the city on a resolution that allows the hospital to provide the highest level of health care while protecting the safety of the public.

Pictured: Assistant City Attorney Lloyd Pilchen and City Manager Ron Strand during Wednesday's special meeting – Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2019-04-26