Standing in front of a two-plus acre piece of property not far from the Sonoma Valley Hospital earlier this week, Sonoma Valley Health Care District board member Bill Boerum laid out his case to Valley residents via YouTube.
“I’m speaking to you about a matter of public urgency,” says Boerum in the video, “which could affect the future of health care in the Sonoma Valley.”
With these ominous words, Boerum begins a three-minute speech questioning the actions of his fellow board members in the way they are handling the fate of the prime 2-acre piece of Sonoma real estate.
“I think the CEO and certain members of the board have been far too hasty in wanting to sell this land off,” summarized Boerum. “I think it should be retained for future potential use by the healthcare district or at least given a fair and open hearing, not behind closed doors.”
So great was his dissatisfaction over what he called a “rush to sell” that Boerum contacted the Sonoma County District Attorney’s office to look into a possible violation of the Brown Act. The DA’s office confirmed the investigation is underway.
The Sonoma Valley Health Care District has long had an option on the property, over three acres of property at MacArthur Street and Fourth Street West formerly owned by the Carinella family. Title for the property was taken by the district in August, 2016, for a sale price of $1.75 million plus associated costs. The total $2 million purchase was made on a loan from a private party, a loan that comes due in two years – August 2018.
While there has never been a clear plan for the South Lot, as it is known, ideas have been floated over the years to include a new wing for the hospital, doctors’ offices and, at one time, a Parkpoint Health Club operating in conjunction with the hospital. A public meeting was held in late October asking for public input on the use of the property, which attracted about 40 people to the basement of the hospital.
Although most of the public comment was in support of using the property for some form of housing or another, a handful of people asked to keep the property for health care services, according to news reports, and one openly urged that the hospital retain the land as a capital asset that could be worth much more than it is today. But Board chair Jane Hirsch closed the Oct. 27 meeting without any discussion, and the topic was not on the agenda either for the Nov. 3 board meeting or for Dec. 1.
Surprised, Boerum – who is serving his third term on the SVHCD board, and second as board secretary – contacted Hirsch to find out what happened to the matter, and found it was to be discussed on the Dec. 1 closed session agenda, under the broad category “Trade secrets regarding business strategy.”
“They shouldn’t be having follow-up board discussion as a closed session item – in my opinion there’s no justification for doing that,” said Boerum. “It’s not business strategy, there’s no competitive issues… and there’s no reason to do it in secret.”
So Boerum refused to take part in the Dec. 1 closed session, stating that the category under which it was discussed in close session was “too broad an umbrella,” according to the minutes of the Board of Directors meeting for that date.