By C. Jayden Smith
The citywide debate over whether San Clemente should add a hospital will continue with a town hall, a decision the City Council arrived at after hearing the survey results on Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 18.
The council voted, 4-1, with Councilmember Laura Ferguson opposed, to authorize the Hospital Subcommittee to put together a town hall event within the next two months.
Adam Sonenshein, vice president of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (or FM3 Research), presented the results.
FM3, a public opinion research firm that was hired as an independent party, was tasked to gauge residents’ interest in adding a hospital through various perspectives and options.
The dual mode voter survey, conducted by asking questions to respondents over the phone or by emailing them a link to take the questionnaire online, received 990 responses, all from registered voters who were likely to vote again. Sonenshein explained that the figure was more than double than what they initially had expected.
“Our goal under our contract was to get 400 responses, which is a pretty typical sample size for a city of your size,” Sonenshein said. “There was a high level of initial interest in the survey.”
Respondents were first asked how they would rate the city’s quality of life, as well as its quality of health care. Quality of life received a combined excellent or good rating of 95%, while quality of health received a 54% rating.
Those figures showed a clear difference in the residents’ perception of the health care available to them.
As the survey went on, it became more detailed and nuanced, and it tailored questions to four differing groups of respondents.
According to the presentation, the responses to some of the key survey questions found:
- 83% favored creating a new hospital
- 57% favored the city using public funds to pay for the construction of a local hospital, which would cost about $200 million
- In one sample group, 65% favored building a new hospital at the former Saddleback Memorial hospital site at 654 Camino de los Mares, and 65% favored building a new hospital at a site north of the Target store at Avenida Vista Hermosa near Talega in another sample group
- 73% said it was either very or extremely important to improve preparedness for public health emergencies; 72% said it was very or extremely important to provide a local emergency room
- Near the end of the survey, 46% preferred building at the former Saddleback site, 29% preferred building at a Talega site, and 24% preferred not building a new hospital
When accounting for the demographics of the potential bond measure, voters aged either 18 to 39 or 65 and older strongly supported the measure, while 49% percent of the 40-49 age group and 55% of the 50-64 age group said they would vote yes.
Renters supported the hypothetical measure more than homeowners, as 74% and 59%, respectively, said they would vote yes. Politically, 71% of Democrats said they would vote yes, 57% of Independents would vote yes, and 58% of Republicans said they would vote in favor.
FM3 asked respondents how they would vote three separate times on the same hypothetical bond measure, once initially, again after providing information from the city’s perspective, and finally after providing information from a potential group that would oppose a new hospital.
Residents asked about Saddleback voted yes at 64%, 68%, and 61%, respectively, and those asked about Talega voted 60%, 64%, and 52%, respectively.
Only the 68% figure would be enough to pass the bond measure, as California law requires a two-thirds majority.
The conclusions section from the survey results stated that voters are well aware that there is not an open hospital in San Clemente, that the nearest hospital and emergency room are too far away, and that there is a majority in favor of using city resources to help build a new hospital.
Additionally, Sonenshein added that if the city wishes to pursue a bond measure, it should consider its goal to be a long-term priority that will require resources for public outreach and to educate the public on why the measure would be a good investment.
During the public session, a majority of speakers was against a new hospital, citing either a lack of available funds from residents or a projection that the hospital would fail.
Despite the public support for building a new hospital at the former Saddleback site, Mayor Pro Tem Chris Duncan said it was not feasible and that the city should consider other options to address the former site’s future.
He cited that the current property owner does not want a hospital there, and that it would be too expensive for the city to attempt to force a hospital at that site.
“Speaking for Mayor (Gene) James and I, we executed a lot of due diligence here (as part of the Hospital Subcommittee),” Duncan said. “We ran down every option, and it did not end up being economically feasible to make a hospital appear there out of thin air.”
Duncan first introduced the concept of holding a town hall, and James supported the idea. James added that they should look into having a panel with ER nurses, doctors, hospital administrators, and an Orange County Fire Authority representative, all of whom could provide information to the public.
“I was hoping this survey would give us a clear path,” James said. “It really hasn’t. It’s given us as many questions as previously we had answers to.”
C. Jayden Smith graduated from Dana Hills High in 2018 before pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in digital and broadcast journalism from the University of North Texas. After graduating in December 2020, he reported for the Salina Journal in Salina, Kansas. Jayden loves college football and bothering his black lab named Shadow.