By Shawn Raymundo
The owner of San Clemente’s shuttered hospital has filed an application with the city that proposes to turn the site on Camino de los Mares into a senior residential and health care community.
In separate statements on Tuesday, March 22, MemorialCare and the City of San Clemente both announced the nonprofit health group’s plans to demolish the abandoned hospital building and develop a 6.3-acre residential community for senior citizens, 55 years and up.
The senior living facility would include 250 units, including studios and one- and two-bedroom spaces, according to MemorialCare’s project summary. The project also sets aside 4% of the units toward very-low incoming housing.
Additionally, the proposal looks to construct a 7,500-square-foot space, adjacent to the living facility, for a health care center that will include urgent care, primary physician, and specialty physician care services.
“This is really exciting,” Dr. Mark Schafer, CEO of MemoricalCare Medical Foundation, told San Clemente Times. “As you know, there’s a shortage of housing in California, throughout Southern California and San Clemente as well, so having additional housing for seniors—that is 55 and above—along with a health care facility, modern health care facility, is really exciting.”
Schafer further explained that the mixed-use element of having medical professionals and resources in the same facility “adds so much to these patients” who may have chronic conditions and problems. Those patients, he said, would benefit from the nearby access to physicians, as well as the social environment with the other seniors.
“Access to physicians and having a social environment, it just really helps to take care of them and their well-being,” he said.
MemorialCare’s application comes as the city—along with every California municipality—has looked to get its Housing Element Update certified by the state. In the update, the city must show that over the next eight-year period, 2021-2029, San Clemente could accommodate 982 new homes.
Of those homes, which the city is not required to build, 446 units must be designated toward very-low and low-income housing, 188 units toward moderate-income housing, and 348 for above-moderate-income housing.
This past October, the City Council adopted its Housing Element Update, which identified the site of the hospital as an area that could be rezoned to accommodate residential housing. According to the city, MemorialCare submitted a letter of interest in support of the rezoning for residential use.
“We’re really excited about having the mixed-use senior homes and the modern health care facility,” Schafer said. “That really solves a lot of problems for the City of San Clemente, and we’re very excited about it.”
In the city’s press release, Mayor Pro Tem Chris Duncan said, “There is a need for housing, including affordable housing, and health care in San Clemente. The council is committed to hearing public comments and considering the application when it comes before council.”
Mayor Gene James echoed Duncan’s comments on the application, stating in the press release that he looks forward to reviewing MemorialCare’s plan with city staff and fellow elected officials.
“While health care is a priority in the City, housing is also a priority due to State mandates,” James said.
The city noted that MemorialCare’s proposal will go through the standard application process, which includes development and planning reviews and public hearings before councilmembers take it under consideration.
The proposal also comes as the city—specifically, James and Duncan, who sit on the council’s subcommittee on hospital-related matters—has explored ways to bring a hospital back to San Clemente since 2016.
MemorialCare had closed the San Clemente hospital amid litigation with the city that stemmed from a dispute over whether to have an urgent care facility or one that provided an emergency room and other hospital functions.
The city and MemorialCare settled the lawsuit in 2019.
“Since that point in time, we’ve engaged with representatives from the city from time to time for possible solutions with this property, whether it be health care or otherwise,” explained Tom Leary, senior vice president and chief legal officer for MemorialCare.
“It’s fair to say that over the course of those discussions, there were a lot of ideas proposed on both sides, just for consideration,” Leary continued. “As the city was working on its Housing Element, the idea of resident housing came to the surface.”
Late last year, the city conducted a survey among San Clemente residents to gauge their interest in developing a new hospital through various funding options. The survey found that while 83% of respondents favored creating a new hospital, only 57% favored the city using public funds to pay for its construction.
Following a presentation on the survey results in January, a council majority voted to authorize the hospital subcommittee to plan a town hall event in the coming months to continue discussions on the matter.
Shawn Raymundo is the managing editor for Picket Fence Media. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.