A few weeks ago I came into the mayor’s office on a Monday morning and found a huge stack of pretty intimidating documents to sign. They were, of course, the papers authorizing the city to work with Community Memorial Hospital to sell $350 million in bonds – to be paid back by CMH’s revenues, not by the city’s taxpayers -- in order to finance the enormous expansion and upgrade now underway at the hospital’s site in Midtown.If you’ve ever bought a house or a car, you know that nothing focuses the mind like signing your name to a bunch of documents. But when the bonds went on the market, they were sold in a matter of minutes and – as the mounds of dirt near the hospital attest – construction has begun. Last Wednesday night, I was proud to participate in a moving groundbreaking featuring 14 speakers – patients, doctors, nurses, volunteers, construction workers – whose lives have been changed by their association with CMH. The whole experience has reinforced for me the notion that CMH is a cornerstone of our community – not only our qualify of life but our prosperity as well.
The CMH expansion is probably the biggest construction project we will ever see in Ventura. (By contrast, the Pacific View Mall expansion back in 2000 was about $100 million.) It may also be the most important. Although the expansion was driven by state law requiring hospitals to retrofit their buildings for seismic safety, CMH has gone far beyond that goal. The expansion will actually allow CMH to serve as one of the most important drivers of our community’s prosperity and well-being for decades to come, in three different ways.
- High-quality medical care
Between CMH and Ventura County Medical Center, we in Ventura already have extraordinarily high-quality medical care already. These two institutions have strong connections to great medical schools at UCLA and USC, and each specializes in different aspects of medical care. But the new CMH will be a huge leap beyond the status quo – private rooms, a 35-bed emergency room, a serene garden in which to walk and heal, and a state-of-the-art medical facility that will be as good as any of its size in the United States. Thanks to this expansion, all of us in Ventura can be assured of great medical care for the rest of our lives.
2. High-quality jobs
Obviously, CMH currently provides hundreds of good-paying jobs for people who live and work in Ventura – doctors, nurses, technicians of all kinds, and on and on. But the new CMH creates a whole net set of opportunities that hold the potential to create spinoff businesses and great jobs for decades to come. Over the past few years in Ventura, we have put a great deal of effort into pinpointing and focusing on growth sectors of the economy – most of which have an important technology components. For example, our Ventura Ventures Technology Center has focused on emerging web-oriented businesses spilling out of Santa Barbara. Another sector we must focus on is biotechnology, and the new CMH can help us become more competitive. The biotech sector in Ventura County is strong – after all, Amgen is the largest private company in the county and one of the largest biotech companies in the world – and we in Ventura are currently missing out on important spinoff opportunities there. By using part of the old hospital building to create wet lab space and other facilities for startups, CMH can help Ventura kickstart our biotech sector. CMH can also serve as a testbed for clinical trials – thus combining the best of research and clinical work, which are both required to develop and test new products, build companies, and create good jobs. This opportunity is often overlooked in talking about the CMH expansion, but I can’t emphasize how important it is to our community’s long-term prosperity.
- Midtown revitalization
CMH has long been an anchor in Midtown’s “Five Points” neighborhood, as the hospital’s employees and visitors have patronized businesses and thus helped the neighborhood economy. In planning for the new hospital, CMH has done an amazing job of collaborating with the city and the neighborhood to create an expansion that is sensitive to the neighborhood (there was no neighborhood opposition) and will strengthen Midtown’s business base. A new parking garage will be created collaboratively by the hospital to serve both CMH and businesses on Main Street. Most important, CMH will now serve not just as the economic anchor. . The new hospital will be oriented toward Main Street with a lovely plaza. CMH will surrender its Brent Street address and replace it with a Main Street address. A plaza and new pedestrian connections will link the hospital to Main Street. CMH has worked hard to help make Five Points in Ventura’s “Second Downtown” – a well-planned and pleasant employment district that will have strong retail businesses benefiting everyone in town.
I have to admit that when I was first elected to the City Council eight years ago, I didn’t think much about the importance of Community Memorial Hospital. Like most people, I thought about the effect it has had on my lives – the many emergency room visits, the times my mother was treated there (and eventually she passed away there), and so forth. But in world where competition for prosperity is tough, every community has to identify its greatest assets and learn how to make the most of them. CMH is one of our greatest assets – and I am very grateful to CEO Gary Wilde and everyone else for all the hard work they have put in. I wouldn’t have missed the groundbreaking for the world. And I hope to be there for the grand opening in a couple of years – so we can see just how much a better CMH means a better Ventura.