by Garth Meyer
Two incumbents and a challenger compete for two seats on the Beach Cities Health District Board of Directors in the November 8 election.
Dr. Michelle Bholat is up for consideration for her third, four-year term, while Dr. Noel Chun has served on the board since 2006. The challenger is Michael Kelly Martin, a retired aerospace systems engineer/manager.
The Beach Cities Health District, originally formed as the Beach Cities Hospital District in 1955 to build the former South Bay Hospital, is a non-profit entity focused on preventive health in Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach.
Dr. Michelle Bholat, incumbent
Dr. Bholat, a professor at UCLA’s Geffen School of Medicine in Family Practice – and a physician in Santa Monica – has been on the BCHD board since 2014.
Bholat lives in the North Redondo Beach home her grandfather built in 1940.
She graduated from Aviation High School, went to Cal State Long Beach for a degree in zoology and chemistry and U.C. Irvine for medical school.
She began serving the BCHD on the Strategic Planning Committee.
“I didn’t know a lot about the Health District but I knew about the hospital,” Bholat said. “I thought it was a brilliant move to (convert) it to a health district.”
She cites BCHD accomplishments such as reducing obesity in schools; helping senior citizens through Blue Zones, walking groups and the Center for Health and Fitness; and addressing substance abuse in adolescents (working with South Bay Families Connected). She described the BCHD’s allcove youth mental health facility, which opened November 1, as an important addition to the district.
“This pilot project will be able to help kids with their personal crises,” she said.
Bholat is also interested in middle-age groups.
“A person trying to navigate their lives and what can we do to help them specifically,” she said.
What might that be?
“Finding tribes, if you will, I see the opportunity through volunteerism,” Bholat said. “We want to reinvigorate our volunteer services. It helps people’s health and wellbeing to become part of something.”
Bholat’s time on the board has included developing plans for the proposed Healthy Living Campus.
“We’ve been at it for a while and we’ll continue going through the process,” she said. “We’ve listened to public input and will now determine where our best next steps are.”
“I would like to see our community come together, and be behind whatever development will occur (for the Campus). The unification of the community,” she said. “Nobody wants to bring harm. That is what this is really about.”
The project – which would replace the old hospital buildings at the site on Prospect Avenue in Redondo Beach – has a board-approved Environmental Impact Report and next goes in front of the city’s planning commission.
It would include assisted living units, medical offices, greenspace and more.
“In my mind, we’re still exploring,” Bholat said. “I’m still very open to hearing and thinking through this process.”
She added a comment on the overall mission of Beach Cities Health District.
“Our job is to augment health services,” said Bholat. “We are at the crossroads of personal health, public health and social determinants of health… We are a great convener of the community.”
She said the BCHD most used services are the Center for Health and Fitness, the “Health Services” phone line, Adventureplex, “and now allcove.”
Dr. Noel Chun, incumbent
Dr. Noel Chun is seeking a fifth term on the board.
“BCHD is a very unique public service that most cities don’t have,” he said. “It provides a lot of preventive care and wellness services…”
The Healthy Living Campus would be its biggest project since the hospital.
“The overhead to maintain the (former hospital) building is very large, and it’s becoming basically unsustainable,” said Chun. “(It needs to be redeveloped) to ensure the financial future of the district. In the absence of redevelopment, we would need to substantially downsize the district and cut services.”
Dr. Chun, an anesthesiologist, works for UCLA Health at Ronald Reagan Medical Center in Westwood.
Originally from Dubuque, Iowa, the son of a thoracic surgeon, Chun went to medical school at University of Iowa and did his internship at University of Arkansas. His anesthesiology residency followed at Columbia University in New York.
He initially ran for the Beach Cities Health District board 16 years ago, he said, because he had gained seniority in his career, and had more time for community involvement. Chun and his wife, also an anesthesiologist, previously ran a practice in Beverly Hills and the South Bay, which they sold.
“I felt I had the qualifications to make a contribution,” he said of joining the BCHD board.
What he like to happen in his next term, if re-elected?
“I would like to see Phase I of the Healthy Living Campus completed,” he said. “ … It really is critical to the financial stability of the district.”
He mentions the significance of the BCHD’s programs in helping to prevent obesity, high blood pressure and dementia.
What about the criticisms of the Healthy Living Campus? These include concerns about construction, traffic, sight lines, who will benefit from it and more.
“We’ve already gone through three to four iterations of the master plan,” Dr. Chun said. “It’s a 60-year-old building. An obsolete building that needs to be redeveloped.”
He said some people who live nearby would like to see the old hospital torn down, and for it to be just a park.
“That would be to their benefit, at the sacrifice of the majority of the district,” said Chun. “We’ve done everything to mitigate concerns. If you don’t redevelop, it’ll end up a big, empty mall like you see across America.”
Chun notes his actions and votes on the board are all accessible on the BCHD’s website.
“Rather than run on promises, I can run on my record,” he said.
Mike Martin, challenger
Mike Martin is a first-time candidate for the Beach Cities Health District Board.
The retired systems engineer/manager, with a PHd from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, now serves on the BCHD property advisory committee. He spent much of his career working with Boeing defense contracts – under accompanying federal rules and regulations.
He questions how the Beach Cities Health District came to stay in existence after its founding mission to build a hospital ended in 1998, with the closing of South Bay Hospital.
“The hospital failed and the government agency kept on going. Just on the principle of government bureaucracy should continue forever,” Martin said. “If you follow the money, it’s really a real estate empire funded by (property) taxes. It’s an example of bad governance.”
Martin said he would like to see term limits for BCHD board members, and for them to represent districts rather than serve “at-large.”
He questions the work BCHD does and how it is funded.
“The stuff they do is more akin to social work, which is fine, but I don’t need a government agency to do that,” he said. “I would take a look at exactly what they are doing. They should go out and get grants for their funding. None of this is easy, by the way.”
Martin also suggests BCHD would be better as a public health department, similar to Pasadena’s.
He contends the board is not listening to public opposition against The Healthy Living Campus.
“Because they don’t have to,” Martin said. “The internal mandate is to self-perpetuate and even grow. My reading is that the board is captive to the staff. I think that they think they know better, they think they’re doing good. In the diplomatic corps, they call it going native.”
Martin is against the Campus.
“It is a highly inappropriate use of public land. Beach Cities resident quality of life should always take first priority,” he said. “Revenue generation to support an entrenched bureaucracy should never be treated as the prime directive.”
He comes back to the original BCHD mission and how it relates to now.
“The voters gave the Beach Cities Health District one job: give us a hospital. When the hospital was done, the district should’ve been done too,” he said. “In the ’50s, they didn’t know to include a sunset provision. To ask, ‘what if it fails?’” ER
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