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  1. TopTop #1
    JimHorn's Avatar

    Close to Home: Time for West County Health District to Disband

    As of yesterday, Feb. 1, we've collected over 1000 signatures on our petition!

    And don't forget to attend the District board meeting tomorrow, Monday, at 5:30 PM at the hospital conference room.

    Close to Home: Time for west county health district to disband

    I’m a member of a volunteer group circulating a petition to dissolve the Palm Drive Healthcare District and a former member of the board. Voters created the district in 2000 and approved a parcel tax— unfortunately, without a sunset date — solely to administer and support Sebastopol’s public hospital with an emergency room and related medical services. Now, our hospital has been sold, and the emergency room is closed.
    Without a voter-approved purpose, the district should be dissolved. Many others agree, including Dan Smith, one of the founders of the district, and Jeff Weaver, a former Sebastopol police chief and strong supporter of the hospital in the past.

    Since its creation, the district has a troubled history: two bankruptcies of its own, along with the bankruptcy of one of its hospital managers, Sonoma West Medical Center. The district allowed SWMC to engage in a dubious drug-testing scheme with a Florida attorney, resulting in a lawsuit filed by the nation’s biggest health insurer.

    Because of these bankruptcies and other borrowing, up to two-thirds of our parcel taxes have been committed for the next 15 years to pay off $25 million in old debt. And because of previous detachments of the Russian River and Bodega Bay communities, the district has shrunk to less than 60% of its original size. In just the past 17 months, the district has lost millions of dollars in net worth through imprudent agreements with a private, for-profit company to manage, lease and ultimately buy the hospital.

    Back in April, the district leased the hospital to this same company, and it declared in May that it was “out of the business of running a hospital.” The emergency room was closed even earlier, in September 2018. Finally, in December, the district sold the hospital, land and equipment to the company for less than what the district paid for the hospital 20 years ago.

    As a result of these actions, the district no longer has a hospital or a voter-approved purpose or funding. It should be dissolved immediately. Unfortunately, unless someone stops it, the district can keep making poor financial decisions, spending our tax dollars on expensive overhead and new programs and, worse, pledging future taxes to borrow even more money.

    Recently, at a cost to taxpayers of $30,000, the district obtained an outside legal opinion on allowable uses of our parcel taxes now that the hospital has been sold. However, the district is withholding the opinion, claiming privilege, and instead plans to issue a “summary” of the opinion — the William Barr version, if you will. The Press Democrat and Sonoma West Times & News have joined me in filing public records requests for the original, unredacted version, but we’ve seen nothing yet.

    Most residents we talk with don’t understand why the district didn’t close down automatically with the lease or sale of the hospital. Unfortunately, the legal process is more complicated, with several options.

    First, the district board could vote to dissolve itself, by far the quickest and easiest solution. The issue will be discussed at Monday’s board meeting at 5:30 p.m. at Sonoma Specialty Hospital, and we urge the public to attend. Second, LAFCO, the agency that oversees health care and other special districts in Sonoma County, could vote to dissolve the district, subject to a protest period.

    We hold out hope that either governmental agency will take action by themselves, but we feel we can’t wait any longer.

    So we are following the third option — working to collect signatures from 10%, or about 2,400, of registered voters to dissolve the district. In less than two weeks, we have collected more than 500 signatures on our petition. We’ll continue to sit at tables outside stores and post offices, walk our neighborhoods and recruit our friends until we achieve our goal.

    Once completed, we will submit our petition to LAFCO for review. In the very likely event a protest is unsuccessful, LAFCO will almost certainly approve the dissolution, as it has with both previous detachments — and the district will finally fold. No new debt will ever be added, and all of our taxes will go to paying the old debt.

    For more information, you can visit or our Facebook page.
    Jim Horn is a Sebastopol engineer and a former director of the Palm Drive Healthcare District.
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  3. TopTop #2
    Goat Rock Ukulele's Avatar
    Goat Rock Ukulele

    Re: Close to Home: Time for West County Health District to Disband

    I agree this parcel tax has to go.

    We are now going to be paying a fire district fee of about the same amount here in the Graton Fire District, I believe several other fire districts in West County are also going to full time staff. Having full time fully trained fire/rescue personnel minutes way helps make up for the loss of the hospital in emergencies. So we have lost some medical emergency service and gained another, cost about the same if we end the hospital district.

    Can someone explain why we can't vote to default on the bonds.
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    Re: Close to Home: Time for West County Health District to Disband

    Great that the Palm Drive District has voted to 'self dissolve'. Let's hope this happens very quickly, as they are still spending $40K/month of taxpayer money on overhead that has no benefit to anyone, now that the hospital is privately owned. Almost everyone I've spoken to hopes that they will stop handing out 'grants' immediately. That isn't what Measure W was ever intended for and they should show good faith and focus ONLY ON DISSOLUTION.

    Last edited by Barry; 02-05-2020 at 10:27 AM.
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