The effort to detach Bodega Bay from the Palm Drive Health Care District is being protested by several residents.
Rich Panter and Perry Marker, among other residents, have been trying to gather signatures required to make a protest valid according to Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) rules. During its meeting, LAFCO may grant an extension for the time to collect protest signatures, as requested by protest leaders.
LAFCO, which determines whether or not separation will be in the best interest of the residents, will have its next meeting on the matter on Wednesday, July 3, at the Sonoma County Administration Building, 575 Administration Drive, Room 102A, in Santa Rosa.
If a matching 25% of signatures from eligible voters in the district are gathered to stay in, the detachment goes to a vote. If there are 50%, the detachment is voided. The magic number to hit 25% is 242 signatures, Marker said.
Proponents of the separation claim health care services are available through other means and that cutting losses on paying into the district via taxes is the best way to go. Taxes will still be collected from the residents for another 20 years or so even if detachment is successful, as Palm Drive has outstanding obligations not yet paid by current tax revenue.
Those in favor of staying in the district say that continuing to pay for the ongoing cost of running the district is worth it to have a voice in the way the district operates.
“We don’t want to lose our vote for the future of Palm Drive,” Panter said. “To me, it’s worth $4 a month to feel like we’re helping the greater health care situation in the district.”
“I just felt it was very short-sighted to detach,” Marker said.
The area that may be detached from the Palm Drive Health Care District has the same boundaries as the Bodega Bay Fire Protection District. Pro-detachment forces chose these boundaries for cost efficiency because otherwise they would have had to spend money to create their own valid map.
The people protesting the detachment effort complain that pro-detachment supporters had months to collect signatures in the sparsely populated area, while they have had only 60 days, hence their request for an extension to gather signatures.
“I realized the clock was running on 60 days, and if we didn’t want to be detached, we had to, as a group, poll the community and find out really what the sentiment is, not just the people who were pro-detachment,” Panter said.
“If we get extended I think there is a much greater chance that we get the signatures we need,” Marker said. “In the meantime, we are working on our position. We just circulated a flyer to all the mailboxes for all the folks in Bodega Bay … so we’ll be interested to see if there’s any additional conversation generated over the weekend and into next week.”
Palm Drive has been faced with public scrutiny for its actions leading to its two bankruptcies and the handling of selling the hospital, but for those who wish to stay in, a problematic past isn’t enough to get out.
“The history of Palm Drive has been a pretty tortured one, and there have been some really bad decisions made,” Panter said. “The question is where do we go from here and what shape is the district really in?”
Marker said he agrees that Palm Drive’s past is rocky, but the aging community will require the greatest amount of health care access possible.
“We have a future. This is the only hospital and urgent care center west of 101, and we need to be part of that,” Marker said.
Panter said that some efforts for detachment seem to him to be geared toward punitive measures against the hospital for its past, but he sees progress in the district’s debt services and the potential sale of Sonoma Specialty Hospital to AAMG, which manages the hospital. He said he wants to see what the viewpoint is in the rest of the community.
“The credibility of Palm Drive in talking with them, to me, has been much more credible than the things that have been said about the hospital,” Panter said.
Panter and Marker said they had both spoken with detachment proponents and didn’t understand the level of vitriol against the board.
“I may be wrong and those of us in the group may find out that in fact we are a minority, but a 25% petition to detach doesn’t tell us we are a minority when there are 75% who haven’t been heard,” Panter said.
Marker said that though information to leave the district was circulated well, he’s still run into many people who didn’t even know the process was happening.
Marker said the LAFCO process requiring only 25% of signatures to detach was “a little odd” given that it is a minority of voters, but it is something that has to be lived with for now.
“It’s something that allows a small, loud squeaky wheel minority to control things in ways that I think aren’t particularly healthy,” Marker said.
Health care services at the hospital are also important to keep, Panter said. The long-term acute care and urgent care services will be hard to replace.
“It’s not our personal medical access we’re concerned about,” he said, saying the need for access was primarily for blue-collar workers in the area’s tourism industry. “Having that hospital nearby seems to be a real asset.”