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By C. Jayden Smith

Hours before the City Council will return to the dais for the first time in 2022, San Clemente residents will get to hear the results of a survey regarding the possibility of bringing back a hospital and forming a local health care district.

On Jan. 18, there will be a special meeting at 3 p.m. to provide a public setting for the council’s briefing on the survey that the city had asked residents to complete.

During the final minutes of the previous City Council meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 21, Mayor Gene James made the motion to create the extra session.

“That’s my motion, in anticipation of the survey results, (to) have a special meeting to be briefed on those results, understand those results, and formulate a plan on what we’re going to do with those results,” James said.

All the other councilmembers supported James’ motion, with Mayor Pro Tem Chris Duncan seconding the motion.

As none of them was aware of the questions on the survey, they asked City Manager Erik Sund to get them copies of the questions before the meeting, to which Sund agreed.

As of this posting, the city manager’s office had not responded to requests seeking comment.

The survey, created by an independent public research opinion company, was made available to residents at the beginning of this month, through phone calls and emails.

Depending on the public feedback, the city could be one step closer to reopening a hospital for the first time since MemorialCare closed the Saddleback Memorial Medical Center on Camino de los Mares in 2016.

That closing occurred during the years-long legal battle between MemorialCare and the city, which stemmed from a dispute over whether to have an urgent care facility or one that provided an emergency room and other hospital functions.

With the survey, the city looks to gauge the residents’ temperature on a proposal from San Diego County-based medical system Palomar Health.

“The survey is being returned at a rate we did not anticipate,” James told San Clemente Times in a separate interview on Dec. 16.

In February 2020, Palomar had proposed issuing a general obligation bond, funded through property taxes, to pay for the medical campus’ relaunch. Palomar also floated the idea of locally forming a health care district, which would be voter-created and funded through tax dollars.

The city had previously estimated costs to renovate the former hospital at about $62.81 million, while the construction of a whole new facility was anticipated to cost $163 million.

James and the other councilmembers commented on the importance of holding a discussion on the topic of the hospital and survey, which underlined their determination to find a proper time for the meeting.

“Once we have these results in hand, we need to move forward,” James said last week.

The City Council’s special meeting for Jan. 18 will take place at the San Clemente Community Center on 100 North Calle Seville. The council is scheduled to go into a closed session at 5 p.m. and will hold the regular public session at 6 p.m. The meeting can be viewed live on the city’s YouTube channel.

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.

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