City officials gave a business planning to build a hospital in Temecula a choice: make a deadline or pay $5 million.
The Temecula City Council voted Tuesday to approve permits for the planned hospital, but only on two conditions.
First, the hospitals’ foundations must be poured before Feb. 2012. Second, the company must start construction on the second phase within five years of the first phase’s grand opening.
If the company misses its deadline, it has to pay the city $5 million.
The company in charge of the project, Universal Health Services, submitted plans to build a hospital in Temecula in 2004. In January of 2006, the city approved the plan.
In the following years, the company missed numerous deadlines to start building set by the city. It was also cited repeatedly by regulatory agencies for unsafe practices.
Southwest Healthcare Systems, the branch of Universal that runs facilities in Menifee, Murrieta and Wildomar, went through a complete change of administrators in the last few years.
Council members said they were sick of watching the company drag the process out. “That’s the 1,000-pound gorilla in the room. As long as we have Southwest Healthcare Systems protracting a myth of building a hospital, no other hospital project wants to build in Temecula,” said Councilman Mike Naggar. “I want to find out how we can get them to build a hospital or go away.”
Some residents at the meeting agreed. “This company needs to stand up and start moving,” said Wayne Hall, a Temecula resident.
The amount of money the company recently spent to rework the plan shows the company is serious, said William Seed, Universal’s vice president of construction and design.
The company spent more than $8 million remaking the plans after breaking its last deadline in October, he said. “We spent the last 10 months redesigning the hospital, said Seed. “We’re not going to walk away from it.”
Some council members thought the investment was inconsequential. “Eight million is chump change to reserve a market share,” Naggar said.
The company is dragging the process out on purpose in order to make sure no other hospitals go up in the area. That way when the economy picks up, the company can build in Temecula with no competition, Naggar said.
That officials suspect the company of something so unscrupulous shows how little trust the city has for it, said Paul Jacobs, a Temecula resident. “Southwest has squandered all our good faith,” he said.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated Southwest Healthcare Systems went through bankruptcy. Valley Health System, an unrelated company, went bankrupt, and Southwest, along with many other companies, was a creditor in the proceedings. Southwest Healthcare System did not, however, go through bankruptcy, according to Frank Lopez, regional vice president for Southwest Healthcare Systems.