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City Council Meeting Recap: Hillside Grant Gets Go Ahead, Doctors Hospital Fiscal Emergency

Tuesday’s City Council meeting called attention to the ongoing fundraising efforts for Hillside Natural Area, plus an update on the financial crisis at Doctors Medical Center.

El Cerrito City Council discusses a federal grant application for the Hillside Natural Area.
El Cerrito City Council discusses a federal grant application for the Hillside Natural Area.
Tuesday's night council chamber chairs were filled by Angela Saridis’ family and friends to hear the City Council approve a proclamation recognizing her contributions to the community. Saridis, a beloved water aerobics instructor and El Cerrito resident of 38 years, passed away January 1 of this year.

Mayor Janet Abelson handed the proclamation to Angela’s husband, Harry Saridis, who tearfully thanked the audience for showing their support.

Council members also recognized the city’s recent award for having the most improved roads, with the greatest increase in pavement condition index over a three-year period.

Doctors Medical Center

Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia took the podium to provide an update on Doctors Medical Center’s fiscal emergency.

“I hate being the messenger of bad news,” Gioia told the council members.  “This isn’t a pretty picture."

Gioia, whose district includes El Cerrito and Doctors Hospital and who chairs the board of directors overseeing the hospital, has been going to every city council meeting in West County to provide an update on Doctors' cash-strapped status and solutions for closing the estimated $16-19 million funding gap.

If no progress is made this year, Gioia said the hospital could close, resulting in increased patient transport times and waiting times in the remaining hospital emergency rooms.

Even residents who don't ordinarily use Doctors could suffer if it closes, he said. Kaiser members, for example, are taken to Doctors in emergency cases of stroke or heart attack.

Property owners in West Contra Costa County are already paying $99 for two parcel taxes to keep Doctors afloat. A third parcel tax this summer one alternative his office is currently exploring.

But a long term solution, Gioia said, would be an affiliation with another health care system, such as Stanford or University of San Francisco. Although he’s proposed this idea to several organizations, he said it’s not an attractive option for outsiders.

At least three quarters of patients who use Doctors Hospital are on Medi-Cal or Medicaid, he said, making it "hard to make profit when only 12% of hospital patients have commercial insurance.”

Hillside Natural Area

Council members unanimously passed a motion, with Mayor Pro Tem Rebecca Benassini absent, to approve a request from the Community Development Department to apply for a federal grant. If awarded, this grant would provide $250,000 of the $475,000 the city needs by the end of this year to acquire eight acres of the Hillside Natural Area purchased last year by San Francisco-based Trust for Public Land.

The deed restrictions of the Water and Land Conservation Fund grant means the city would be prohibited from using the entire 212 acres of land for anything besides public use and recreation.

It stirred up some concerns amongst council members, particularly for Council member Greg Lyman, who was worried that voting on something with "in perpetuity," especially around property rights, could dampen decision making for future councils who may be limited in options for using the land in question later on.

Mayor Abelson said this was a “unique opportunity” for the city to acquire and protect open space, and wanted to ensure the grant application was not weakened by language that could suggest this land would be used for anything besides public recreation.

Trail Trekkers President Dave Weinstein also gave an update on the private fundraising efforts. They’ve already raised $30,000 of their personal $100,000 goal, he said, with both large and small amounts donated by residents.

“It shows strong community support and a wide appeal for protecting open space,” Weinstein said, adding he hopes money from Measure WW, a 2008 bond measure dedicated to parks and open space in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, can be saved for other projects instead.

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Giorgio C. January 22, 2014 at 10:49 PM
Supervisor Gioia needs to take the Doctors Hospital fight to Sacramento, not to the taxpayer. Look at what Sacramento/California has done to public education in recent years. Now, they get it right with a new funding formula. They should do the same for hospitals like this one. Tell our elected officials to fix this problem known as Doctors Hospital instead of passing around the hat yet again.

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