By Alfredo Santana
LOS ANGELES — Efforts to turn the former Los Angeles County General Hospital into an affordable housing development and a healthy village received a big boost last week after the five Los Angeles County supervisors voted to seek bids for a redesign master plan.
The unanimous vote allows building and architectural contractors to submit bids to retrofit the aging 19-story building and make it safe for housing and withstand earthquakes, with plans to repair damages caused by the 1994 Northridge quake.
In addition, the bids should address how to repurpose the West Campus, part of the 25-acre property, into a series of facilities that provide medical and social services for the homeless to recoup and transition onto permanent housing with the goal to reintegrate them into the community.
The decision opens the period to receive requests for proposals through June 2.
Supervisor Hilda Solis said that investments to refurbish the General Hospital and the West Campus should result in a mixed-use project that provides affordable, low-income and market rate housing, commercial and office spaces, room for economic opportunities such as retail businesses, spaces for the community and other infrastructure.
“Los Angeles County is the epicenter of the homelessness crisis,” Solis said Jan. 26. “The need for supportive and affordable housing is more important than ever, which is why I am moving forward a project to repurpose a historic county landmark to meet our greatest need.”
Restoring the art-deco style building for housing will require a multimillion dollar infusion of public funds, although Solis has mentioned that she expects to garner support from business investors to make the project a public and private partnership.
Last June, a motion sponsored by Solis directed administrators of county departments to identify $194.7 million to support the repurposing project.
The same motion authorized shifting $14.7 million more from the County-USC Master Plan and future federal, state and local allocations to pay for restoration and anti-seismic works.
Also, the state streamlined $50 million in the 2022-23 budget for retrofits and renovations to the building constructed between 1927 and 1933.
Solis indicated the vote is the result of five years of work that included crafting a $200,000 feasibility study, securing funding and receiving community feedback.
“The historic General Hospital has long been a fixture in Los Angeles County, and today’s action helps solidify its legacy of healing and community for decades to come,” Solis said.
Although it remain unclear what anti-seismic codes the building located inside the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center should meet, it is expected that the safety measures would be in tandem with state building requirements.
Also, the feasibility study indicates that county authorities “will require a structural upgrade” to comply with the state’s building energy efficiency standards.
The California Energy Commission indicates the standards are “designed to reduce wasteful and unnecessary energy consumption in newly constructed and existing buildings.”
Updates to the energy code are made every three years by the California Energy Commission in a process that involves stakeholders in a public process, the agency posted.
“While there is no clear code mandate for retrofit, the county Building Department has the authority and is expected to require a full structural retrofit based on proposed use and visibility of the project,” the feasibility study indicates on page nine of Appendix B.
The document points out that the building’s façade suffers tension cracks with exposed and corroded rebar “that can be restored with structural injected epoxy,” and presents concrete shears along columns and window frames.
Kelly LoBianco, director of the newly created county Department of Economic Opportunity, said that his team looks forward to entering into a single agreement with a developer to turn the former hospital and adjacent land into a place of recovery, growth and opportunity.
“We will be inviting local, national and international developers to help L.A. County reimagine and repurpose the historic Los Angeles County General Hospital,” LoBianco said.
Refurbishing General Hospital into a multi-apartment complex would provide up to 371 affordable and 184 market-rate units, according to estimates reported last summer.
However, three buildings in the West Campus are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, and any restorative work would have to meet layers of engineering and administrative scrutiny.
The include a 43,000-square-foot pharmacy built in 1917, a 750-feet long tunnel that links the General Hospital with the former pharmacy, and an administration building constructed in 1910.
In addition, county officials have stated that any restorative work conducted in the General Hospital should preserve the integrity of the lobby, ceiling paintings, statues and engraved readings located above the facility’s main entrance, and many architectural features found in upper floors.
The building’s lower floors are being used by the Wellness Center, Sheriff’s Department personnel, county staff from other agencies, and by the U.S. Navy to train new emergency trauma physicians.
Most of the upper floors are vacant due to disrepair, and for not being in compliance with water, sewage and fire safety codes.