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Cancer Center addition approved

October 01, 2004

Barbara Diamond

The city gave two thumbs up for the addition of a radiation facility

to the Cancer Center on the South Coast Medical Center campus.

"A center must have a diagnostic unit, surgical, chemotherapy,

counseling and support systems, social services and radiation," said

Dr. Gabor Kovacs, center medical director. "With this addition we

will have completed the Cancer Center."

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The Planning Commission voted 4-0, with Rob Zur Schmide absent

from the Sept. 22 meeting, to approve conditional use and coastal

development permits for the 4,188 square-foot addition. The following

night the Design Review Board unanimously approved the project design

and landscaping, without conditions.

"We have been waiting a long time for this, as have our patients,"

said former Mayor Kathleen Blackburn, a member of the medical center

governing board. "We need the cancer center for the viability of the

hospital."

The hospital is studying ways of improving its financial

situation, including moving the medical center out of town. The

building, which houses the cancer center, is owned by the South Coast

Medical Center Foundation, with a separate identity and board. The

center could stay even if the hospital moved, hospital spokesman Tom

Larrimore said.

Neighbors voiced concerns at both meetings about drainage from the

campus.

Drainage from the campus has been an on-going problem. Documents

going back to 1991 were filed with the city from property owners

across the street from the campus.

"My family has owned the property at 31861 Coast Highway on the

beach across from South Coast Medical Center for some 70 years," said

Carol Nilson. "Referred to by the hospital as the 'Zimmerman

Property,' we receive all the hospital's surface run-off as it

transits to the ocean.

"The hospital is widely viewed as on the verge of financial

collapse and the proposed radiation [facility] is acknowledged to be

a lifeline.

"We continue to support the concept of this center ... but this

building should not be built at the expense of the environment, a

neighbor's property nor in rank disregard for the Clean Water Act."

City and Caltrans representatives are meeting with the neighbors

to try to resolve the problem. Hospital officials have not

participated in the past. In fact, foundation President Joe Orsak

said he was not aware of the meetings.

Orsak said both he and Gary Irish, hospital chief executive

officer, would be more than willing to cooperate. He stopped short of

accepting hospital participation as a Planning Commission condition

of approval of the project.

"It is not pertinent to the cancer center," Orsak said.

Commissioners agreed.

"We need to recognize pre-existing problems with the drainage, but

that is not before us now," Commissioner Bob Chapman said.

The project, which is less than 5,000 square feet, does not

trigger the Clean Water Act's stricter requirements, according to

Chapman and attorney Gene Gratz, who represents the Zimmerman

property owners.

"But it imposes obligations on the city as the enforcer and the

hospital as contributor," Gratz said. "It is not the intention of the

Zimmermans to impede this project, but rather it allows us to

encourage the hospital to participate with Caltrans, the city and the

Zimmermans to encourage a process of solution."

Opponents of the project as approved have until Oct. 6 to appeal

the Planning Commission's decision, and until Oct. 7 to appeal the

Design Review Board decision.

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