LARRY CULBERTSON, San Clemente
Saddleback Memorial Medical Center (Saddleback) is trying to foist off a massive housing project on the citizens of San Clemente, and they may get away with it.
Saddleback, a not-for-profit hospital based in Laguna Hills, bought San Clemente Hospital in 2004 and then shut it down in 2016. That took away our only emergency room, leaving us to drive 10 miles to Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo.
Saddleback has now proposed a scheme for a 250-unit luxury senior housing apartment building and a medical office building on the site.
To get the number of units and square footage they want, they would have to exceed the height, density, and parking standards required by our city building code. It would be four stories tall. Every other building on the south side of Camino de los Mares, from the freeway to the San Clemente Villas, is one or two stories. Instead of the 143,000 square feet of floor area our standards would allow, they want 231,000.
How could they propose a project so far outside the allowed standards? State laws have been enacted over the past few years that require cities to allow much higher densities. The idea is to force cities to permit more low-cost housing. They are allowed to skirt our building standards if as little as 5% of the units are “affordable.” They can have 237 luxury units at market rate for wealthy seniors by providing just 13 “affordable” units.
The lack of adequate on-site parking and adverse effect on traffic are two big problems for this project. They would result in serious health and safety issues. Camino de los Mares is already heavily impacted by traffic; this project would make it far worse.
If Saddleback would scale back the size of this project, those health and safety issues would diminish, and there might be support for the project.
Fortunately, our Planning Commission shot down the project on a 4-0 vote. But Saddleback will be appealing to the City Council on Nov. 1. Council needs to let Saddleback know that affordable senior housing is welcome, but it must be on an appropriate scale.