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HOSPITAL SUIT DISMISSED CITY OF PALMDALE LOSES FOR SECOND TIME.

Byline: KAREN MAESHIRO Staff Writer

PALMDALE -- For the second time, a judge has dismissed a lawsuit by the city of Palmdale against Antelope Valley Hospital in connection with the battle over what kind of hospital should be built in Palmdale and who should build it.

The lawsuit, which alleged that the hospital violated state law by not doing an environmental study of the site on which a competing hospital is being built, appeared motivated by economic reasons rather than by concern for the environment, the judge concluded.

``The contentions made by the city of Palmdale in this lawsuit are so disingenuous as to strongly suggest that it is not remotely connected with any concern on the part of the city about the environmental impact of constructing a hospital upon the site in question,'' Los Angeles Superior Court David Yaffe wrote.

``The court strongly suspects that this lawsuit is being maintained for economic, not environmental reasons, and that the city is using CEQA (the California Environmental Quality Act) to protect interests that the statute was not enacted to protect,'' Yaffe wrote.

The legal battle centers on what city officials view as an attempt by the hospital district to block Pennsylvania-based Universal Health Services from building a $100 million hospital complex at 38400 Tierra Subida.

Palmdale has filed four lawsuits against the hospital. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs earlier this year threw out one alleging that hospital officials violated the state's open-meeting law in making an offer for the hospital land.

Two more are pending, one alleging more open-meeting violations and another alleging that the hospital district is in default of a development agreement in the operations of its east-side Palmdale clinic.

Hospital district officials have said they fear that the new private hospital will draw off patients with insurance, leaving Antelope Valley Hospital caring for a higher percentage of patients unable to pay for their treatment.

``I think it's obviously a positive ruling for the hospital. We felt that we didn't violate anything,'' hospital CEO Les Wong said of the court ruling. ``We are happy that the judge ruled based on what we felt.''

Hospital officials said they do not oppose the new hospital as long as UHS has agreements in place to provide service to patients covered under the state Medi-Cal program for low-income people.

Mayor Jim Ledford disagreed with the judge's conclusions.

``I think we believe that there is merit. We will evaluate the merits of the decision and evaluate whether we appeal,'' Ledford said.

Deputy City Attorney Noel Doran cited a June 2005 press release in which hospital officials announced they were offering $9.3 million for the land and would ``commence immediate construction'' of a new hospital.

Doran said he understands the judge's ruling. The hospital stated there was no project so they don't have to comply with CEQA, ``which is technically correct.''

``But for months they have been telling citizens that they would build a hospital immediately. In moving papers they called it a nonexistent project,'' Doran said. ``They either lied to the citizens of Palmdale that they were going to immediately build a hospital, which is what I think they did, or they have a project, didn't comply with CEQA and are claiming they don't have a project.''

Yaffe in his May 10 ruling said the city's lawsuit does not contain sufficient facts to support allegations that the hospital failed to comply with state environmental law.

The city's lawsuit ``does not allege any facts showing that (the hospital) has commenced, intends to commence, or contends that it may commence eminent domain proceedings to obtain (the city) land without complying with CEQA,'' Yaffe said.

``It clearly appears that (the hospital) has not acquired the site, nor has it commenced eminent domain proceedings to acquire the site from (the city) without (the city's) consent,'' Yaffe wrote.

karen.maeshiro(at)dailynews.com

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 25, 2006
Words:648
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