Since Cottage Health Systems began building 115 new homes at the site of the former St. Francis Hospital 18 months ago, there have been 52 complaints filed by neighbors about violation of construction rules and regulations enacted to minimize impact to nearby residents. In the past six months, there have been 19 complaints. In that same period, the project’s environmental coordinator — assigned to ensure compliance by construction contractors and subcontractors — issued 17 notices of infraction consisting of 13 verbal warnings and four written notices. Most of these had to do with truck traffic blocking streets, trucks using the wrong streets, and dust being generated. No fines were imposed.
This lack of financial consequence troubled several of the city’s planning commissioners, who heard a status report on Cottage’s construction efforts at last Thursday’s Planning Commission hearing. Likewise, it was troubling to many of the neighbors who showed up to voice their displeasure. Permit conditions allow for fines up to $1,000 but only for specific violations. None of these, city planners noted, occurred. The extent to which Cottage was complying with the construction conditions was also a subject of some controversy. City planners and Cottage officials contended that three to four complaints a month was not a lot.
But some commissioners, like Charmaine Jacobs, suggested that many violations went unreported and that the true number was much higher. Also at issue was a very large utility pole that blocked the views of many residents. This pole was installed not by Cottage but by SoCal Edison and was key to successfully undergrounding the utility poles serving not just the new housing units but the existing neighborhood as well. To move the pole to a less intrusive spot would have cost $40,000, an expense that Cottage declined to absorb. City legal representatives argued they lacked the legal authority to force Cottage to do so. Thursday’s report was part of a mitigation plan designed to buffer the neighborhood from the disruption caused by so large a construction project. Most of the homes Cottage is building will be sold at below-market rates to its employees.