By Alfredo Santana
BOYLE HEIGHTS — A motion to repurpose the historic General Hospital for hundreds of affordable housing units gained support from county supervisors July 26, who directed county staff to assemble a financial plan to retrofit and upgrade the aging structure.
The motion, presented by Supervisor Hilda Solis, instructs county departments to identify up to $194.7 million from their coffers in 120 days to back the project.
Solis also called for the creation of a capital project to manage all funds, including state allocations to refurbish the facility and clean asbestos, debris and pollutants that accumulated following the closure of upper floors due to damage caused by the 1994 Northridge Earthquake.
“Cementing our commitment to its restoration and reuse can aid in our response to the housing crisis our region is experiencing, as well as provide exceptional health services, carrying on the hospital’s over 150-year old mission,” Solis said in a press release. “I’m grateful for the support of Eastside residents and stakeholders in moving this collective dream forward.”
Most of the 19-story Art-Deco building fell in disrepair after the quake damaged the façade, cracked walls and exposed rebar, rendered most of the building unsafe,
Currently, the building’s lower floors are used by The Wellness Center, an extension of county health services, Sheriff’s Department employees and staff from other departments, with nearly 7,000 people using the facilities.
Also, the U.S. Navy has a center where medical students are trained at the lower floors.
In 2008, all hospital services migrated next door to the County-USC Medical Center built in the same medical campus.
The projected building’s reuse also garnered support from the state, which allocated $50 million in the 2022-23 budget for retrofits and renovations.
In February, Solis authored a motion to shift $200,000 from her district’s Catalytic Development Funds to prepare a plan to redevelop the site using public and private funds.
But the request for proposals cannot be issued until the building complies with earthquake and fire safety codes.
The request for proposals is scheduled for release at the end of the year or early in 2023, and is being drafted by the recently formed Department of Economic Opportunity.
Repurposing the aging building is the third of a three segment Restorative Care Village program that in 2017 was launched to provide resources to combat poverty, homelessness, drug addiction, incarceration, unemployment and mental instability on campus facilities to hospital patients with nowhere to go.
Plans to overhaul the 88-year old structure started in 2018, when Solis directed the county’s CEO to draft a feasibility study to adapt its reuse and revitalize the site.
The Hospital Feasibility Study was presented to the Board of Supervisors in April.
On the lengthy 633-page study, the county’s executive officers recommended the design of hundreds of affordable units within the General Hospital plus expansion of wellness services.
They also identified the West Campus as an underutilized county asset that has 12 acres “available for development after setting aside property for future phases of the Restorative Care Village, expansion of the County-USC Medical Center, and the existing Medical Examiner-Coroner facility.”
The study also identified upgrades needed to achieve a mix-use renovation that would blend housing with commercial and retail units.
Although county officials said they have not determined how many affordable units the General Hospital would bear, the Los Angeles Times reported that it could provide 184 market-rate units and 371 affordable units.
The Times also indicated that the building’s internal restoration and redesign would begin in 2024 and wrap in 2026, but officials said they had not set a timetable for restructuring the facility.
In her motion, Solis said the General Hospital has been surrounded by traditionally underserved communities like Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights, East Los Angeles, El Sereno, Northeast Los Angeles and Chinatown.
She also referred to a dark passage from 1968 to 1974, when physicians at the medical facilities conducted forced sterilizations on Latinas with Mexican background.
“Any intentional efforts to address systemic racism and build more equitable approaches to county services must confront these most egregious past inequities,” Solis said.
In addition, the motion calls for transferring $14.7 million from the County-USC Master plan and future funding from federal, state and local agencies to the project to account for anti-seismic and restoration works.