A 53-acre parcel that will flank a future interchange on the cusp of Temecula and Murrieta is being studied as the potential site of a Kaiser Permanente hospital and medical complex.
If it is built, a Kaiser facility would further alter the fast-changing physical and medical landscapes of the area. But Kaiser officials caution that the planning is still in the early stages and the company has not purchased the site under consideration east of Interstate 15.
“We’re still in the due diligence,” Karen Roberts, a Kaiser spokeswoman based in Riverside, said in a Tuesday phone interview. “This is typical and it doesn’t imply an intention to build.”
News of Kaiser’s scrutiny of the area began to spread after the company – which operates an umbrella of hospital, medical care and insurance services – submitted preliminary development plans to Temecula on Nov. 20.
A meeting with city officials was planned for Thursday to provide a first reaction to the project that could total 1.2 million square feet, stand 90 feet tall and include 250 hospital beds and more than 4,200 parking spaces.
“This (preliminary plan) is a start, but it’s very conceptual at this point,” said Stuart Fisk, a senior planner for the city. “They don’t have a lot of details in the plan. They’re just getting some ideas out there and getting some feedback.”
The submittal comes amid a flurry of medical projects that are cropping up in a region that was widely seen as lacking enough hospital beds and key specialty services. In recent weeks, a neonatal intensive care unit has opened at a Murrieta hospital and a Temecula hospital that struggled for years to break ground is more than half finished.
Those medical milestones come about 1½ years after Loma Linda University opened a $230 million complex in Murrieta that is anchored by an emergency room and a five-story, 265,000-square-foot hospital. That hospital, which overlooks Interstate 215, sprouted over a 26-month period that netted Murrieta its second hospital.
Temecula’s first hospital is taking shape at the city’s southeast corner. The Kaiser site anchors one of the valley’s prime locations because it is near the hub of key road improvements that are planned or under way.
Plans are being finalized to link Ynez Road in Temecula with Jackson Avenue in Murrieta. That north-south connection, which has been discussed by the two cities for more than a decade, is seen as a key local improvement. The Kaiser site would be sandwiched by I-15, the extension of Ynez and Date Street, which will eventually become a major traffic corridor.
Date Street will become the main exit of the French Valley interchange, a project that is expected to unfold over several years and cost nearly $200 million.
Work began in the spring on the first phase of the massive interchange project, which will ultimately create new ramps on both sides of I-15 and weave together 11 bridges that span the freeway and various creeks and roads in the area.
The first phase will serve as a relief valve for long lines of vehicles that form as southbound drivers queue up to exit I-15 at Winchester Road. Southbound drivers often back up to Murrieta, and driving can be unnerving as two freeways merge and motorists jockey to exit or continue on to another ramp or into San Diego County.
It is hoped that completion of both phases will improve traffic circulation throughout the area and make it easier for long-distance drivers to pass through a freeway bottleneck that has become increasingly congested.
Kaiser has expanded its services into the region as the area has grown. The company operates medical centers in Riverside, Fontana, San Diego and Los Angeles, and has affiliate agreements in place in Escondido and other cities. Kaiser currently provides services in Temecula and Wildomar.
In June 2008, Kaiser spent $53 million to purchase Moreno Valley Community Hospital. A 10-acre medical complex being built near that hospital is slated to open early next year. At the time of that purchase, the integrated nonprofit health plan boasted that it provided care for more than 272,000 members in Riverside County.
In July, nine Kaiser hospitals were listed by U.S. News & World Report in its ranking of “best hospitals.” The ranking gleaned 17 hospitals – including Kaiser’s Riverside, Los Angeles and Fontana facilities – from 94 metropolitan regions with populations of 500,000 or more.
The Temecula site identified by Kaiser is part of the commercial and public use portion of the Harveston planned community that has sprouted along Temecula’s northern boundary. That 1,921-home subdivision, which surrounds a man-made lake, was approved by the Temecula City Council in August 2001.
Most of Harveston’s neighborhoods have been built, but much of its commercial land remains vacant. Work on a car dealership is expected to begin soon north of the Kaiser site.
The zoning of the Kaiser site would allow the development of a hospital and medical complex, Fisk said. Detailed environmental assessments were done for the Harveston master plan, which could streamline the city’s review of a Kaiser hospital complex. Fisk estimated that – depending on the pace set by Kaiser – city review of such a project could take about 1½ years.
Preliminary plans call for the Kaiser complex to begin with the construction of an 80,000-square-foot medical building flanked by about 400 parking spaces. Three future phases would bring a pair of hospital towers and a cluster of medical services buildings. A parking garage is envisioned as part of the complex.
If the current outline of the plan is followed, the complex would feature an emergency room and cancer, cardiology, imaging and obstetric services. It would also include a pharmacy and numerous laboratory services.