Midtown hospital construction threatening businesses, fostering poor relations

By Chris O’Neal
chris@vcreporter.com

In the midst of midtown Ventura’s new Community Memorial Hospital construction and, in particular, its parking structure, area businesses are taking some collateral damage.

Construction vehicles and hospital employees occupying many of the limited parking spaces, fences erected on the border of the construction zones and a general aura of closure are plaguing the business owners. They say that CMH and its contractor, McGillivray Construction Inc., have failed to live up to promises made prior to the beginning of construction and are causing damage and disruption to their businesses.

Sam Maxson is the owner of Megasound Studios, located directly in front of the future location of the 571-space parking structure.

“There are rumors that people are spreading all over town that our building is going to be torn down, so a lot of the customers won’t come to us,” said Maxson. Maxson says that hospital representatives told him and other area business owners in 2015 that banners would be placed on his and adjacent buildings to confirm that the businesses will be open during construction. That promise never materialized, he says.

“I’m a small business, it’s very hard on me,” said Maxson. When musicians book his studios, he says, they typically do so knowing that the process can take months, but with the construction musicians aren’t taking the chance that MegaSound might close mid-production.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything where a city has approved a project without some sort of mitigation for the surrounding businesses,” said Sid White, formerly the city of Ventura’s economic development manager, now with Ventura Realty that owns the strip mall being impacted. “The lack of regard for the tenants surrounding a project like this, especially by the politicians that generally protect the rest of us, the smaller folks . . . it’s certainly not anywhere near to reality.”

A Parking Mitigation Plan, however, does exist, drafted by Santa Barbara-based Associated Transportation Engineers, which the city of Ventura provided a copy of. The document, dated June 26, 2015, outlines a CMH Employee Parking Program that provides 150 parking spaces, with the option to expand it to up to 250, at Pacific View Mall with shuttle transportation to the hospital running every 15 minutes between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Construction worker parking is also addressed. The report estimates that 200 workers would be on site at the hospital construction daily and 30 for the parking structure construction. These employees, according to the plan, are meant to make use of lots at the Ventura Harbor with a shuttle carrying them to the worksite. Office staff and foremen are to park at the Auto Zone, a church parking lot off of Telegraph Road or at the CMH construction site itself.

“Parking for the employees that will be working on the new parking structure will be provided within the fenced off parking structure,” as written in the plan.

Five Points Skate Shop owner Brad Spann says that this hasn’t been the case, calling the entire situation a “nightmare,” from severely impacting his sales (which he says dropped to a mere percentage of previous holiday seasons this past December) to being physically unable to exit through the rear due to a fence erected too close to his shop. Spann says that construction and hospital employees park in what was formerly a private lot for the Main Street shops, even parking in front of his and area stores for over 8 hours on a daily basis, and that his own employees aren’t allowed to park there. Spann says that parking code enforcement is practically non-existent.

“We’ve had semi trucks pulled up to our backdoor with engines running where you can’t even talk to your customer,” said Spann. On one particular night, the Skate Shop’s manager was locked in and could not exit the back of building, the only exit available after setting the alarm. The lot is also shared by Bagel Rock Coffee Shop and Megasound Studios. “All of us are just dying, they’re just killing us.”

Calls to neighboring businesses confirmed the difficult parking situation, many sharing similar experiences.

Iain Holt, principal planner with the city of Ventura’s Community Development Department, says that CMH is responsible for implementing the Parking Mitigation Plan, but that enforcement of the plan is shared between his department and the city’s transportation division.

“I wouldn’t say it’s unfortunate that I’m hearing this firsthand from a reporter and we’re not hearing it straight from individuals, but, yes, we would follow up with the CMH folks as part of this Parking Mitigation Plan,” said Holt. Holt says that the new structure will ultimately answer the area’s parking concerns, with 172 spaces available for public parking. Another 141 spaces, however, would need to be purchased by Main Street businesses from CMH.

Chandra Chandrashaker, associate engineer for the city of Ventura, says that there have been complaints received from two midtown business owners, specifically from Bagel Rock Coffee and Five Points Skate Shop.

“We have tried to address their issues about parking by having the curb painted in front of their businesses as exclusively for someone using those establishments,” said Chandrashaker, adding that CMH has tried to be a “good neighbor.” “We know that CMH has a hotline and that they have had regular meetings with all of the businesses and neighbors that are being impacted by the construction.

“Construction is disruptive,” said Chandrashaker. “But it’s also a good opportunity for redevelopment when the project is built. They want to do the right thing as far as the neighborhood is concerned.”

Beginning this month, a new project to replace the sewage line spanning the length of Main Street from the intersection of Brent Street and Telegraph Road to the Pacific View Mall is threatening to congest traffic and complicate the stressed parking situation further.

The hospital is a $275 million project, set for completion in 2017. In March, hospital representatives said that the parking structure could be opened as early as this July. Upon completion, the garage will cover 180,500 square feet and have 571 spaces, 258 of which will be reserved for hospital visitors and staff. While CMH is covering the cost of construction for the structure — roughly $12.5 million — the city of Ventura is a partner, providing the land.

Sitting in the alleyway behind his shop, Spann says that the Skate Shop’s 31st anniversary is next week. He says he doesn’t know how much longer he and his peers can hold out without taking legal action.

“We’re little guys, we can’t afford to lose business like this; they just came in and took over,” said Spann. “I know, of course, we needed a new hospital. All of this is fine and dandy but a little bit of consideration would have been nice.”

Repeated attempts were made to reach a representative from Community Memorial Health System to no avail. This is an ongoing story.